Ice Cube Shooting Another "Friday"

New film project with Johnny Knoxville also in the works

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Several weeks into shooting one film and with two others lined up after it, Ice Cube continues his gradual transition from rapper/actor to actor/rapper. Cube has just begun shooting Friday After Next, the follow-up to 2000's Next Friday and third in the ghetto-fabulous series that began with 1995's Friday.

Cube again penned the screenplay and serves as producer. The director is Marcus Raboy, who, in addition to directing a host of Cube's videos ("Guerillas in the Mist," "Wicked" "You Know How We Do It"), has shot clips for Santana ("Smooth") and Staind ("Fade").

Like the first two movies, Friday After Next finds Cube's weed-stupored Craig Jones struggling to keep afloat in a less than idyllic corner of Los Angeles. This one's a holiday affair, however -- a yule-tide-n-the-hood replete with a Santa who breaks, enters and makes off with everything under the tree.

"There's never really been a real hood Christmas movie," Cube says, breaking between scenes on a Glendale, California soundstage. "A California Christmas with no snow on the ground and shit -- I thought it would add a new texture, a new flavor to what we were doing. I remember wishing there was snow in L.A. And how jealous we used to get of those Christmas specials with kids playing in the snow. For us, it was not about what you got, but how you felt. I tried to capture that in this movie. You know, you're not gonna get a lot so it's all about how you feel, with your family, the songs and what they do for you."

The soundtrack for Friday After Next is due sometime before the film's planned Thanksgiving 2002 release. Though Cube says it's too early to say exactly which artists (besides himself) will grace the album, he's already formulated its motif.

"We'll have a chance to include a lot of Christmas jams that have never made it into films but they've been in black households for a long time," he says. "Things like Donny Hathaway's 'This Christmas.' We're gonna do a few original songs, and grab some from the archives. I'm gonna do some myself."

Contrary to rumors, Rush Hour star Chris Tucker will not be reprising his also-perpetually-stoned Smokey character from the original Friday -- the role that launched the funnyman into the box-office cosmos. Conspicuously absent from Next Friday, Tucker's comic slack was picked up by Mike Epps, who played Craig's neurotic cousin, Day-Day. Epps and Day-Day are back for the third chapter.

"It hasn't been tough filling [Tucker's] shoes, because we found Mike Epps, and I like Mike Epps better as a person than I do Chris Tucker," says Cube. "I still haven't got a real explanation of why he [Tucker] didn't do the last movie. I've got bullshit explanations. He says he didn't get paid. I beg to differ, but he's never come to me and talked to me personally about what he says in public. I wish he would be a man and do that, but he won't.

"And it's like, you know, one monkey don't stop the show," Cube continues. "The second one made way more money than the first one made, and we expect the third one to blow that one outta the water. In retrospect, who really needs Chris Tucker in Friday? It's not about him."

When filming wraps, Cube will head immediately to Chicago to work on Barbershop, the big-screen debut from another video director, Tim Story (R. Kelly, Master P., Ginuwine). The movie is another ghetto knee-slapper set in Chicago's rough and tumble South Side, with Cube starring as a barbershop owner whose humble haircutters try to play detective.

From there, he'll head back to Los Angeles (sometime in March) to shoot the real-time car-chase epic The Big Ticket with Jackass's Johnny Knoxville. Based on a Steve Spielberg story idea and written by James Herzfeld (Meet the Parents), "Ticket" finds Cube again exploring the thug motif, this time as an escaped convict who carjacks Knoxville, who is cast as a stuffy yuppie.

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