The once-infamous rapper Ice Cube began his slide down the dangerous Black man to family-friendly movie star pipeline with his screenplay for the 1995 movie “Friday.” The film follows Cube in the lead role as everyman Craig, a slacker who gets fired on his day off. He spends the titular day with his best friend Smokey (Chris Tucker), who convinces him to smoke weed for the first time. The ensuing comedy has since become a classic for Black audiences and in the stoner movie genre.

Ostensibly a film about two friends having to cull together enough coin to prevent a drug dealer from killing them both, “Friday” has endured for its sheer hilarity, memorable supporting cast, and endearing authenticity. 

Many movies use the “plot in a day” structure and force their hero through some rudimentary fetch quest. But few populate that journey with characters as iconic as Bernie Mac’s thirsty pastor, Paula Jai Parker’s hypocritical and abusive love interest, or Tiny Lister Jr.’s Final Boss adversary, Deebo. Beyond that, “Friday” works so well because of how sincere it is and how lived-in Craig’s South Central neighborhood feels. It’s absurd sometimes but never at the expense of believability, making it one of the most fascinating stoner films. “Friday” spawned a full-on trilogy, followed by 2000’s “Next Friday” and 2002’s “Friday After Next.” Perhaps someday we’ll deconstruct that third film’s transgressive misuse of the Christmas movie paradigm, but today, we need to discuss “Next Friday.”

When it was time to cash in on a sequel, so many crucial elements were immediately cast aside. Director F. Gary Gray, now too successful to work on something so small-time, was replaced by Steve Carr — another music video veteran, but one whose filmography would go on to include “Daddy Day Care” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Tucker, whose iconic turn as Cube’s BFF in the first film provides so much of its crackling energy, chose not to return, necessitating the entrance of Mike Epps as Craig’s cousin Day-Day. The earthy, textured environs of South Central would be traded in for the tacky, bold colors of Rancho Cucamonga, where Craig has been sent to stay after the first film’s climactic fight with neighborhood bully Deebo.

The basics stay the same. Craig, now with Day-Day, finds himself in an increasingly complex web of drama throughout the course of a single Friday, only where the first film had a naturalistic tenor that allowed each narrative escalation to feel within the reason of reality, “Next Friday” dips further into cartoon territory, adding a Mexican gang called The Jokers, Day-Day’s absurd record shop boss Pinky (Clifton Powell), and Day-Day’s ex-girlfriend D’Wana (Tamala Jones) who is a less interesting version of Joi from the first film. Deebo is here, too, with Sticky Fingaz as his brother/henchman, emanating unfortunate Scrappy Doo energy. 

It’s not a complete disaster. It features an early appearance from Michael Blackson as an angry customer from the record shop, one of the few bit players who matches the intensity of the first film. Epps, though no match for Tucker, proves to have strong enough chemistry with Cube to keep the central buddy vibe alive. And perhaps the film’s greatest saving grace, Kym Whitley channeling her inner Jennifer Coolidge in “American Pie” as Craig’s lascivious auntie. She steals every single scene she’s in, whether you’re laughing with her or drooling over her. 

There’s a carefree gaudiness to the film. It’s bright and grinning in your face as it auditions to be re-run on Comedy Central every afternoon as the back half of a “Half Baked” double feature until the end of time. 

“Friday” is a stoner movie that tempered its humor with the reality of the drug’s dual status both as a necessary escape from the strictures of life and a central element to a criminal trade that presented real danger to those involved. “Next Friday,” by comparison, feels so much like watching low-level celebrities sell their own strains of bud with names that sound like bad Action Bronson songs.

Perhaps this is a reach, and the movie itself is just mid to a fault — the “Clerks” to “Mallrats” transition for Blassic cinema. But “Friday” was a movie you didn’t actually have to be high to enjoy. I can’t say the same for “Next.”

“Next Friday” is currently streaming on HBO Max.