Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.
Konichiwa, pardner. I am the Wild West Samurai.
Before I start this review, my captor has some questions for me. So, just give me a moment.
Yes, marijuana? What of it?
Yes, Einstein. It comes from the ground.
Anyway, what was your question?
Wait, what? Marijuana isn’t dangerous…
… Might dull a few brain cells, but hardly dangerous.
The War on Drugs is why. Basically, marijuana had already been illegal in America since the 1930s as a result of anti-Mexican sentiment. White American workers hated competing with Mexicans for jobs, so the Federal Bureau of Narcotics started a propaganda campaign exploiting white workers’ fears of Mexicans, associating marijuana with Mexicans, and getting the drug banned as a result. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon started a “War on Drugs” by the government to allegedly save America from an epidemic of addicts and crime. In 1994, Nixon’s aide revealed the real reason behind the War on Drugs: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. […] We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
It’s funny you should ask me about marijuana, though. The movie I was going to review coincidentally has a lot to do with the subject.
Oh, just a mid-’90s cult classic I’ve never seen called Friday.
My balls are in a precarious enough situation without your guys’ help, spank you very much. Yes, I know this is a popular movie. I’m on social media. I’ve seen all the goddamn memes. “Daaaaaamn!” “Bye, Felicia.” “You got knocked the fuck out!” Those memes are like the Hotel California. You can’t fucking escape them.
So, is the movie’s reputation warranted?
The movie opens up playing “Tryin’ To See Another Day” by The Isley Brothers against some gorgeous establishing shots of a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. We see shoes dangling from a power line in our opening shot – which, no, is not a common gang sign, despite what urban myths you may have picked up on.
‘Ey, ‘ey, go have your existential crisis somewhere else. I got a review to work on here.
Go jump in a lake, you… whatever you are. You killed Ricky.
So, anyway, we meet our cast of characters over the opening credits with very little dialogue. There’s Stanley (Ronn Riser), a guy in a fancy bathrobe smoking a 1940s-style pipe who looks like he just walked off the set of The Cosby Show. He hates people walking on his lawn. And that’s it. That’s his entire character.
… That could be taken one of a few ways, each more disturbing than the last. Sleeping in a garage, there is also the bully of the neighborhood named Deebo, played by our first black President, Tiny Lister.
In a bedroom, we find one of our two main characters, Smokey, getting up and… smoking a blunt. Yeah, not a very creative name. He’s played by the ultimate base-breaking actor, Chris Tucker, who has a loud motor-mouth comedic style that is hard for anyone to pull off without coming off as annoying. Pretty much everyone hates Chris. Critics hated him in the Rush Hour movies, hated him in The Fifth Element, and fucking cheered when his character got shot in Jackie Brown. Even Family Guy has taken potshots at Chris, which is hypocritical, to say the least. I… don’t think… Chris is that… bad. Don’t get me wrong. He’s been in plenty of bad movies, especially the Rush Hour sequels.
However, there is one eyesore- erm, earsore in this movie.
Wait! Hear me out! I’m not saying John Witherspoon is a bad comedic actor. I’ve watched The Boondocks. He’s freakin’ great in that! His line deliveries are golden.
But… in The Boondocks, he was given great lines to work with. “What’s wrong with a man giving away a golden shower? Sounds like a nice gift to me. […] Shoot, I wish somebody gave me a golden shower.” Hell, some of his first lines in the show are hilarious. After Huey has a dream that he made white people riot by telling them “the truth,” Granddad responds, “How many times have I told you, you better not even dream about tellin’ white folk the truth! You understand me? Shoot! Makin’ white people riot! You better learn how to lie like me! I’m gonna find me a white man and lie to him right now!”
What are John Witherspoon’s lines in this movie?
… Ha… Ha?
Where are the jokes?? What are the punchlines? I’m sorry. These lines are not funny! Now, I can’t entirely blame John Witherspoon for this. He didn’t write the damn script. It was written by Ice Cube and… DJ Pooh?
We meet our other main character Craig, played by Ice Cube, getting out of bed to the sound of pounding on the front door of his house. He finds it’s just a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to spread the good news. Turns out, Craig hates good news and slams the door in their faces.
Okay, that is funny.
Craig goes to his sister Dana’s room to pester her about hooking him up with her friend Debbie (later revealed to be played by Nia Long). Dana is played by Regina King, and I swear to God, John Witherspoon, who plays Craig’s and Dana’s dad Willie, would be SO much more awesome in this movie if he and Regina had just a little argument together about, I dunno, white people rioting or some shit. But they never interact the entire movie. Also, Dana has this weird thing where she sleeps with her head propped up by her hand.
Craig gets some cereal to eat- wait a damn minute!
Huh?? That’s… clearly Cap’n Crunch on the box, but the movie’s calling it Crunchies? Why? Cap’n Crunch’s image was affordable enough, but his damn name was too expensive to pony up the royalties for?
Craig empties the whole damn box into a bowl big enough for a Saint Bernard’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner, only to pour the milk in and find there’s only a rat’s bladderful left. So, bereft of his most important meal of the day, Craig does the only sensible thing to do: He tries to dump the entire bowl in the trash…
… You fucking monster.
Craig asks his mother Betty (Anna Maria Horsford) if she told Willie he’d lost his job the previous day, and she pinkie-swears she didn’t. This lie lasts less than a minute before his dad plunks the truth that he knows into Craig’s lap like the dookies he’s dropping in a toilet humor scene that’s somehow less funny than the one in Dumb and Dumberer.
I went there.
God help me.
Dumb and Dumberer is a shit movie. It is fetid. It is atrocious. It is an affront to comedy. It is the afterbirth that slithered into the world and gained sentience. But goddamn it, they polished that turd to shine like a whistle in a Skynet factory for that one scene of gross-out humor. And they did it better than John Witherspoon did in Friday.
Craig meets Felicia (Angela Means) at the front door, where she’s asking to use his family’s microwave to heat up some chicken. Craig offers to take her chicken and heat it up in the microwave for her, but she says, “No, see, I was hoping that I could take it to the house with me.” Craig reacts by breaking the fourth wall, and it is glorious.
Craig’s long-nailed girlfriend Joi (Paula Jai Parker) calls the house, demanding to know if Craig is seeing other women. Craig denies it and hangs up. Then Smokey pops in, and almost gets popped off.
You know, I do have to hand it to the director F. Gary Gray and cinematographer Gerry Lively. For the budget this movie had, they get some really cool-looking shots in it. Smokey tells Craig to meet him outside, and we meet Smokey’s boss Big Worm, played by Faizon Love. Big Worm supplies Smokey with weed to sell in the neighborhood but suspects Smokey’s been getting high on his supply, and something about Big Worm’s voice sounds reaaaaaally familiar.
Craig and Smokey talk about how fucked up it is Craig got fired on his day off work… until they get distracted enough by a woman jogging past to unwittingly prove Newton’s third law of physics for douchebags.
Smokey tells Craig about how hot the jogger’s mother is too, and I have to admit, these lines cracked me up. “Older the berry, the sweeter the juice.” “Man, it’s the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”
You see? Chris Tucker can be funny.
Oh, my God. Chris?? What happened to you? You have jowls now!
Noooo, Chris. Noooo, it’s just… people are assholes. You’re fine, Chris.
Hey, hey, enough with the crocodile tears. You are not a joke. You are Chris Goddamn Tucker. Sure, you’ve been in shit movies and had some bad performances, but you know what? If Sean Connery can go from James Bond to Zardoz, you’re allowed to make some bad material every now and again.
‘Cause, Chris, I grew up on your stuff. Rush Hour, The Fifth Element, Money Talks, Dead Presidents. People can say whatever bullshit they want about when you were bad, but when you were good… you were undeniably good.
… Can I… Can I pinch your jowls?
Never mind, never mind. Moving on.
So, Smokey tells Craig about an incident where their friend Red (DJ Pooh) tried getting his bike back from Deebo. In a black-and-white flashback – which were very popular in the ’90s, it seems – Deebo seems like he’s going to give the bike back… for about two seconds. Then he cold-cocks Red and sends him flying into the pavement. Not even kidding. His punch literally sends the guy at least twenty feet into the air
while R. Kelly sings in the background.
Holy shit, Tony Stark. Get. On. This. This guy needs to be recruited for the Avengers, pronto! Sure, he’s a shitheel in 1995, but he gets better by 2008.
Chris gets in Red’s face and yells his signature line, “You got knocked the fuck out!” Even Michael Clarke Duncan gets a laugh out of- wait! Michael Clarke Duncan is in this?!
Smokey finishes his story and he and Craig go over to his house so Smokey can smoke a blunt… of the exact same weed he’s supposed to be selling. Even Craig calls him out on this. “What I’m trippin’ on, is how you gonna sell bud, and you smoke it?”
Yeaaaaah… Not saying you deserve to die for ripping off your employer, Smokey, but GODDAMN! Have you ever read your Bible proverbs? “Thou shalt not poketh the bear?”
Shut the fuck up, Jules. So, Smokey’s mother sends him to the convenience store for cigarettes, where we meet the owner of the “Black Owned” store as he pops up from behind the counter like a whack-a-mole while a gong sound plays.
… Wow, movie. Even Mickey Rooney might say this was fucked up. What is the point of this scene? To satirize Asian shopkeepers exploiting black neighborhoods? Okay, fair enough, but… why the fucking gong sound? Gongs are like ninjas, i.e. not just an Asian thing anymore. If a ninja can be a turtle with an Italian name, then a gong can be African, European, or even American. I mean, can you imagine if other characters’ scenes were announced with a stereotypical sound effect, like… I dunno, John Witherspoon’s shit dropping to the sound of djembe drum beats?
Yeah, that’d be a little fucked up. Shit, the poor store owner’s the butt of a very uncomfortable joke and he doesn’t even get a credit in the damn movie! You know who does?
Because… fuck, how do I explain this? There’s a long-ass history of antagonism between Black Americans and immigrants, arguably moreso than between White Americans and immigrants. Immigrants tend to set up shop more in impoverished neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods tend to be, well, black. In the 1800s, it was Irish immigrants. In the early 1900s, it was Italian immigrants. From the 1980s to arguably the present day, it’s Asian immigrants. Korean immigrants, especially. One of the less remembered incidents that led up to the 1992 L.A. Riots was the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in 1991 by a Korean store owner over a $2 bottle of orange juice Latasha intended to pay for. The shooter was given a $500 fine, five years’ probation, and 400 hours of community service – but no prison time. This incident and the long-simmering tensions between black residents and Korean store owners are why Korean businesses were among the worst hit during the riots. This tension has been talked about in TV shows like Lost or The Hughleys and movies like Menace II Society or Do The Right Thing. Hell, Ice Cube released a song titled “Black Korea” in 1991 with some fucked up lyrics- ohhh, okay, now I see why this joke was put into this movie.
Yeah, the scene bothers me. Because what could’ve been some insightful commentary on black-Korean relations is just written as a tasteless, two-second joke that adds nothing to anything. It doesn’t even add a good joke, it’s so pointless and mean-spirited.
Anyway, we’re about 26 minutes into the movie. Notice something missing?
I’ll let everyone listen to the Final Jeopardy theme and figure it out while I finish this review. Smokey and Craig head back to Smokey’s house, only to get distracted by Mrs. Parker- oh, for God’s sake. Another hot woman to ogle? Is this block just up to its tits in hot women in skimpy clothing?
There’s a hilarious bit where Craig’s mother Betty says, “Unh. Look at her. Now, she oughtta be ashamed of herself coming out looking like that. Hey, girl!!” Then Betty gives Mrs. Parker a two-faced smile and a wave, promising to call her. Something about Anna Horsford’s line delivery gets me in stitches.
After Betty leaves the house to go to work, we get a montage of Smokey toking up on the front porch of Craig’s house while the Rick James song “Mary Jane” plays. For some reason, Craig isn’t partaking. The duo are interrupted by Pastor Clever (Bernie Mac) stopping by, but when his flock refuses to heed him, he crosses the street to Mrs. Parker and tend to her flock. Then a Latino man named Hector drives by, exchanging some words with Smokey. In another black-and-white flashback, it’s revealed Smokey doesn’t like Hector because he gave Smokey a hit of PCP as a prank. This resulted in Smokey running down the street in his drawers and finding himself in Deebo’s pigeon coop the next morning- wait. Deebo takes care of pigeons?? Orrrr, did he steal a pigeon coop, like he does everything else?
Yes, I’m sure you two have lots in common. Speaking of Deebo, he rides Red’s bike over to Craig’s house to jack their stuff- oh, my God, the shots in this movie.
Craig and Smokey hide their valuables so Deebo doesn’t steal them. Undeterred, Deebo muscles Smokey into helping him break into Craig’s bathrobe-clad, pipe-smoking neighbor’s house when he’s not home. While Craig is keeping watch, a car pulls into Mrs. Parker’s driveway. Craig rubs his hands with glee while he watches Pastor Clever running out of the house being chased by Mr. Parker, who is played by… Bad Santa’s accomplice? I’m… I’ll give the movie credit. While Tony Cox is in it, he isn’t the butt of any dwarf jokes, as far as I can tell. Unless the visual gag of Bernie Mac being chased in his underwear by a man three feet shorter than him counts.
When Craig’s neighbor return, he gives a whistle. Deebo and Smokey return from their burglarizing. Deebo managed to snag $200 and takes off. Smokey lights up again and finally convinces Craig to get ins on that. After Craig takes a few tokes of the joint, Felicia stops by to pester Craig and Smokey, and we get Ice Cube saying the famous line, “Bye, Felicia.” Finally, we meet Debbie, who drops by asking if Dana is home from work. She gives Smokey the number for her friend Rita, whom he promptly calls and arranges to see later. Craig, higher than a kite on a zeppelin and tripping balls, seeing things like Big Worm’s head in a cupboard and hearing ceramic dogs whining, manages to scooch in close with Debbie on the couch and flirt with her and for fuck’s sake, remember how I said something was missing earlier?
Big Worm drives by in an ice cream truck, which… is actually pretty brilliant satire. Think about it. From a kid’s perspective, who are the vilest, most sinister gangsters to roll around, selling their overpriced poison to our sweet, unsuspecting youth?
So, at 52 minutes, the plot finally starts, although this is still technically only Act One.
Big Worm demands Smokey pay up, but when Smokey can’t cough up the money for the weed he smoked rather than sold, Big Worm gives him until ten o’clock on the dot to pay him $200. And if Smokey doesn’t have it, Big Worm is going to kill him and Craig, since Smokey implicated Craig in smoking some of Big Worm’s weed, too.
… Wow, Smokey. You’re an asshole.
Fortunately, Smokey gets his comeuppance in a bit when he has to go to the bathroom and is locked out of his house, so he squats in the backyard to take a dump. Yes, it’s about as funny as it sounds. No, it doesn’t get funnier if you toke up.
Dude! We are an hour into this thing, and the plot’s still taking its sweet-ass time. I need to be high to enjoy this at this point.
Craig gets understandably mad at Smokey for dragging him into his problem with Big Worm, and the movie takes a hard left into Not Fucking Around Town.
Smokey tells Craig he’ll let Big Worm know it was he, and he alone, who smoked Big Worm’s weed, adding in a somber tone, “If I get dealt with, I get dealt with.”
The quiet soundtrack, the slow, deliberate way Smokey talks. This scene was needed. Because underneath all the comedy and bad lines and toilet humor, this is at its core a very dark story. What’s the premise? A day in the life of a low-level drug dealer who makes a $200 mistake and whose boss will kill him if he can’t pay it back. A man’s life… over the cost of a PlayStation console. That is dark, no matter how many poop jokes you throw in. This scene is compounded further when Craig, unable to just let his friend face his doom on his own no matter how mad he is, heads into the house to get his gun. Craig’s dad Willie walks into Craig’s room and sees the gun, asking what it’s for.
Craig lies to his dad about the reason for the gun. Willie implores Craig to put the gun away, informing his son of an uncle’s death at 22 trying to settle a dispute with a gun. Willie gives a back-in-my-day speech that undermines the scene a bit, because he says real men settled arguments with fists rather than guns back when he was a young man, probably in the 1970s. Even if they lost, they lived to fight another day.
After this seriousness, the movie returns to the realm of comedy when Red visits and shows Craig and Smokey the shiner Deebo gave him.
Deebo comes by and steals Red’s gold chain. Smokey sells weed to Hector after Craig muscles him into it. Mr. Parker dumps Mrs. Parker’s clothes on their lawn. Willie tells Craig to get him a glass of water, and we get this scene.
… was this emphasized? When the ice cube hits the ground, it makes this loud echo, like Craig just dropped the One Ring. Why does Ice Cube look into the camera for… Waaaait… Ice Cube… dropped an ice cube… on the floor…
… Well played, movie. Well played.
The next scene is at nighttime, and a car pulls up to Craig’s house. Smokey somehow guesses the car’s driver is Rita (Yvette Wilson), the girl he spoke with on the phone earlier claiming she looked like Janet Jackson. Turns out, no. And Smokey is horrified.
Still, in a comedy full of stereotypes and mean-spirited jokes, of course we get a “haha fat people” joke. It’s not a subverted joke. This is the ’90s. This is played completely straight. We even get a wet fart sound effect as Rita gets out of the car. Uh-huuuuh, because Nia Long farts nothing but rainbows and unicorn dust, right?
Rita also pulls off her hat, revealing her short-cropped hair. Smokey runs over to Debbie’s house and demands to know why she set him up on a blind date with a – and I quote – “fat-ass, bald-headed girl.” Okay, putting aside the fact that Rita lied that she looked like Janet Jackson…
Society, or writers, or who the fuck ever, what is so damn horrible about large women or short-haired (or even bald) women? Did a large woman set your puppy on fire? Did a bald woman piss in your coffee? Maybe Rita’s nice. Maybe she’s a freak in the sheets. Larger women and bald women can be sexy, society. Soooo…
Debbie is kind of an asshole. I’m sorry, but the way she talks about someone who’s supposed to be her friend? “Rita is not fat, she’s just big-boned.” I readily acknowledge Smokey is an asshole, and it is enjoyable to watch Debbie bathe in his misery – except for the fact that misery was bought with her friend’s dignity. Her reaction when Smokey tells her Rita claimed to look like Janet Jackson?
And of course, when Smokey asks why Red’s bike is on Debbie’s lawn, she tells him Deebo is inside sleeping with Felicia. She actually has the balls- er, ovaries to tell Smokey to mind his own business when he asks more questions after she’s the one who spilled the goddamn beans!
Moving on. Smokey comes up with the brilliant idea of sneaking into Felicia’s room to steal the $200 Deebo stole earlier. In this scene, we finally get some funny toilet humor when Smokey has to move Deebo’s underwear to get to the $200.
Smokey’s plan is foiled when a crackhead pops his head in the window, waking Deebo up. Smokey heads back to Craig’s house, where Craig retrieves his gun. Because it’s almost ten o’clock. A van drives up the street and opens fire on Craig and Smokey while they run into an alley. Craig shoots back at them. This battle would be told of in song for generations to come. Many a barn’s broad side were slain that night, but by the gods’ divine graces, no men were grazed. The Imperial Stormtroopers’ Marksmanship Academy has taught these men well.
Craig and Smokey hide in the back of a pickup truck until the danger passes. When they return, Debbie is confronting Deebo because he apparently beat her sister Felicia for trying to steal from him. “You hit my sister like she was a fucking man!”
… Soooo, if he had hit her like she was a woman, would that make you less angry? It’s your sister, Debbie! How about no one hits your sister at all?! Also, now the movie cares about Felicia all of a sudden? When Deebo tells her to go home, she calls him on his shit, telling him she’s not scared of him.
What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?! Your lack of testicles is not a relevant factor here! He hit your sister, Debbie! Get a lead pipe and KICK! HIS! ASS! What the hell is stopping you- wait, dumb question.
So, Deebo being Deebo, he smacks Debbie across the face. Craig shoves Deebo and gets in his face about it.
First of all, “female” is an adjective, not a noun. A woman can be a “female police officer” or a “female driver” or a “female Orc” or a “female alligator catcher,” but she cannot be “a female,” period. Does anyone in this entire movie ever refer to a man as a “male?”
Second, when the hell did you give a shit about respecting women, Craig? Was that before or after you were ogling Mrs. Parker or that jogger? It’s just pure coincidence he doesn’t step in to confront Deebo over hitting Felicia but does step in when Deebo hits the girl whose pants Craig wants to get into? Respecting women doesn’t count if your ulterior motive is to bang them. Take that factor out of the equation, then I might be impressed.
Third, of fucking course you, co-writer and star of the movie, get to fight the big bad bully to show how manly you are and win the Debbie Trophy. Because that dead horse hasn’t been beaten enough. Seriously, this trope where Megamind or the Karate Kid or Rocky or Robin Hood or Cave Man #4,325 beats another man in a fight in order to win Hot Girl #5,280 is so worn and tired, you could say it’s a…
What really bothers me most is how contrived this whole scene is. Nobody in the crowd intervenes because the writers made it that way. Craig is the one who steps to Deebo because the writers made it that way. Craig doesn’t use his gun on Deebo because the writers made it that way. And Debbie doesn’t fight Deebo because the writers made it that way. So that Craig could be the one to fight Deebo and be the hero. No. I don’t know a single woman who would use “I’m a girl” as an excuse for not taking a baseball bat to some asshole’s kneecaps for hurting their sister. Or even brother.
I’m not going to recap the fight itself, I care so little about it. Craig knocks Deebo out cold and wins the fight. Smokey shouts “You got knocked the fuck out, man!” and steals Deebo’s $200. Red gets a punch in and takes his gold chain back from Deebo. Craig and Felicia arrange to meet up in the morning. Willie tells Craig he’s proud of him – while on the toilet, of course. And before going to bed, Craig gets a call from Joi and breaks up with her. “It’s over. BEEEITCH!”
Well, that sudden respect for women didn’t last long.
Smokey calls Big Worm up to let him know he has the $200 and that he’s leaving the drug-dealing business to go into rehab. After he hangs up, he lights up a joint and breaks the fourth wall one final time.
You know, for a movie with a reputation for being all about marijuana, I was surprised by how few scenes there were showing actual usage of the drug. This movie’s focus was more on the toilet humor and filler scenes than it was on pot-smoking.
What are the film’s problems, apart from the stereotypical humor?
It. Is. Slow.
It takes an hour for the plot to finally start, and there is way too much damn filler that is just not funny. When it’s good, the comedy will have your sides hurting like a jab in the ribs. When the comedy is lazy, it’s like a hard kick to the urethra. The climax is not particularly inventive, and perhaps I’d be giving this film higher marks if the comedy had gone darker. Like I said, at its core, this is a pretty dark story, so it just feels disingenuous for Smokey to be cracking jokes from a rooftop while being shot at. There were so many tropes that could’ve been shaken up to make the ending more interesting, like having Craig lose the fight with Deebo and having Debbie throw the brick at Deebo’s head.
That being said, for the stuff that does work, it really works. I liked the chemistry between Craig and Smokey. It felt like a very natural relationship, and the most genuine depiction of any of the characters in the film. They don’t really go through character arcs. They stay the same people they were at the start of the film, only Craig has a new girlfriend. F. Gary Gray also manages to take this limited concept and bring some creative direction into the mix so you don’t notice the filler as much as you should. And compared to most stoner comedy films, this was one of the better, more mature… ish ones.
And now, 21 years later, America has finally recognized the error its ways. No longer is marijuana an unfairly maligned substance, nor are people of color unfairly stigmatized for- nope… I was just bullshitting.
RATING: Rent it on video – 3 out of 5.
Coming up on December 22nd, 2016:
It’s the holiday season!
So, what better to review than a 1993 Christmas special… titled A Cool Like That Christmas?
… Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…