In his early days as a rapper, Ice Cube often exploited an angry, even politicized persona. But on his more recent records and as an actor—and as the head of an increasingly successful film production company called Cube Vision—he’s remade himself as a ghetto Everyman, a slowly mellowing hero for everybody out there who’s just trying to get by. In Friday After Next, the third installment of an urban comedy series that probably should have called it quits after two, Cube is back as Craig Jones, a ne’er-do-well with a good heart and a prosaically proletarian name who drifts from day to day and blunt to blunt and spends most of his time trying to keep his hyperactive cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps) in check. Most male hiphop stars like to keep themselves looking as fabulous or as hard-core as possible as they move over to celluloid. It’s a measure of Cube’s refreshing lack of posturing that in this Friday he’s meant to be the new, successful, responsible Craig—which means moving into a run-down pad where he’s already behind on the rent and holding down a job for all of about four hours. (In Craig’s world, that qualifies as Tony Robbins-style self-improvement.) Cube, who produced and wrote the script, has also tried to keep things fresh by giving this installment a Christmas theme: The movie opens with a Santa-disguised neighborhood thief breaking into Craig and Day-Day’s apartment and taking off with the presents, and it ends with a Christmas Eve bash in the same living room at the end of the same day. In between, the cousins take jobs as seasonal security guards at a local strip mall—but all they really wind up having to protect against is a bunch of stereotypes and stale one-liners. Cube has a natural and appealing ease in his role that sometimes allows him to rise above the material, but Epps, who also appeared in 2000’s Next Friday, is still struggling to get out of the shadow of the comedically superior Chris Tucker, Craig’s foil in the 1995 original. And the new movie feels more than a little underdeveloped: It’s an extended sketch, really, in which the animated opening-credits sequence qualifies as the longest (and one of the funnier) scene. Die-hard Cube fans with pockets as thin as Craig’s would be wise to save their money for a trip to see Barbershop—or even for a copy of the rapper’s

greatest-hits CD, his entry in last year’s holiday-dollar sweepstakes. —Christopher Hawthorne