(On DVD, April 2016) The Friday series moves from the hood to the burbs in this bugger-budgeted follow-up, and the result may not necessarily be better overall, but it’s certainly funnier. Ice Cube stars as a young man who, following the events of the previous film, finds himself exiled to a cousin’s house for his own protection. Of course, mayhem both awaits and follows as Latino gangbangers live next door, and the first film’s antagonist is in hot pursuit. Slicker, slightly grander and more consistently funny than the first film, Next Friday may not have the hood/comedy juxtaposition effect running for it, but it’s a decent comedy in its own right. The laughs are there, the crazy characters abound, the rhythm is sustained (easily improving upon the first film’s laid-back approach to plotting) and the conclusion feels as if it gracefully ties up its plot threads. Mike Epps does well in a film that asks him to substitute for Chris Tucker, while Lisa Rodriguez does surprisingly well in a role that doesn’t require much more than being held in the centre of the male gaze so obvious to the film. Next Friday isn’t an overly ambitious film, and whatever social commentary value it has comes organically from Ice Cube’s perspective, but it’s a decent-enough film as a silly comedy and that’s all it needs to be.
(On Cable TV, June 2013) There’s something extremely comfortable in Sparkle’s story about three female singers trying to make it in late-sixties Detroit. It doesn’t take a detailed history of The Supremes to know the place, understand the challenges and guess the dangers they face from boyfriends, drugs, fame and familial disapproval. The music is familiar to the point of being curiously forgettable, the period detail easily mirrors countless other similar films and the stage cinematography feels like an old comfortable sequin dress. The plot, more episodic than tightly-wrapped, can be followed along with some narrative pleasure even it’s a blend of conventional elements. The only real question is whether the actors can do something with this material, and whether the music is worth it. Sparkle doesn’t exactly sparks when it comes to its songs: they all skew toward the sultry rather than the rhythmic side of Motown –viewer’s appreciation will vary according to their own tastes. Fortunately, the film does quite a bit better when it comes to performances: Mike Epps is deliciously evil as the antagonist, while Carmen Ejogo does fine as his main victim. Jordin Sparks is comparatively duller as the title character (it’s not a challenging role, especially compared to Ejogo’s harsher dramatic arc) but relative newcomer Tika Sumpter gets a little bit more substance as the third sister of the ensemble. Elsewhere in the cast, Whitney Houston gets one last role as the matriarch-who-learns-better, while Derek Luke is unexpectedly charming as the good guy. While Sparkle won’t have much of a legacy, it is an acceptable film for those who want just a little bit more of that Motownish magic.