1995’s “Friday” is one of the best comedies to feature an entirely black cast of actors from the ’90s. “Friday” has been a long-time personal favorite of mine since about 1999 – four years after this film’s original 1995 theatrical release and just one year before the release of its sequel “Next Friday” (2000).
Following in the footsteps of neo-blaxploitation ‘hood movies from the early ’90s, “Friday” is somewhat of a parody of films such as “Boyz N the Hood” (1991) and “Menace II Society” (1993), but with a Cheech & Chong-styled, urban stoner twist. It comes in between the seriousness of “Boyz” and “Menace” (but before the ‘hood-movie silliness of 1996’s “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood”) and the PC 21st-century preachiness of Tyler Perry. But that doesn’t mean that “Friday” still isn’t saying SOMETHING meaningful. In its own unique, un-preachy way, “Friday” critiques the (still-relevant) epidemic of unemployment in the black community while also throwing wickedly pointed barbs at U.S. drug laws (particularly as they pertain to marijuana).
A Lot Can And Does Go Down Between Thursday And Saturday in “Friday,” which marked the big-screen debut of former music video director F. Gary Gray. On one particularly eventful Friday in South Central Los Angeles, recently unemployed Craig Jones (rapper Ice Cube) wakes up with no job, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. The plot is pretty thin as he and best bud Smokey (hilarious Chris Tucker) observe the goings-on in their neighborhood and all of the film’s colorful cast of neighborhood characters. Things get really going when Smokey suddenly becomes indebted to local drug dealer Big Worm (Faizon Love) for $200 after smoking up the same merchandise that he was supposed to be selling, which also leads to a violent ending confrontation with towering neighborhood bully Deebo (Tiny “Zeus” Lister, Jr.).
“Friday” really does breeze through its plot and characters and does so with a funny, laugh-a-minute script penned by none other than Ice Cube himself and co-screenwriter DJ Pooh (who also appears in the film as Craig’s co-worker Red). Chris Tucker’s Smokey seems to get the best laughs and one-liners here. With his nasal, high-pitched voice and manic mannerisms, he proves to be a reliable comic foil to Ice Cube’s more level-headed Everyman Craig and is the film’s comedic centerpiece. John Witherspoon brings a seasoned maturity to his role as Craig’s Dad, a hilarious cameo by the late Bernic Mac as Pastor Clever is perfectly timed, and Nia Long livens up any scene she appears as the girl next door Debbie.
Since F. Gary Gray is a former music video director making his big debut here, the movie does also have a wonderful hip-hop/’70s soul soundtrack that features Ice Cube himself, Dr. Dre (still riding high at the time on the popularity of his trademarked “G”-funk sound), Cypress Hill, Scarface (of Geto Boys), Mack 10 and 2 Live Crew, plus old-school funk/R & B talents such as the late Rick James, Bootsy Collins & Bernie Worrell, and The Isley Brothers. Such a selection of artists proves he knows his black music very well.