Friday, May 25, 2007

The Deconstruction of 'Smokey'

(In keeping with our every Friday look at "Friday": Today's treat: "Smokey")

"No sugar? DAYUM. Y'all ain't never got two things that match. Either y'all got Kool-aid, no sugar. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ham, no burger. DAYUM. "

One of the most loved characters in black cinema surfaced in 1995 in a modest-budget movies created by a rapper filmed in 21 days.
The cult classic "Friday" catapulted the sayings of Smokey (played by a comedic Chris Tucker) into the cinematic stratosphere.
But in reconsidering Smokey's character traits, some questions come to the fore.
1. Smokey didn't have a last name? No, "Craig," played by Ice Cube, had a last name. It was Jones. The fact that Smokey didn't have a last name reinforces his role as a scoundrel with no influence of family compared to Craig's "full" family.
2. Did Smokey ever have a job? Smokey didn't have a job yet he ridiculed Craig for having a job — and for getting fired "on yo day off." This, along with the jesterly way Smokey makes fun of "Red" when Deebo knocks him out, combines to make Smokey a comedic yet somewhat unsympathetic figure until the end of the movie where he and Craig's lives are in danger. Some in the black community have criticized the character as being nothing more than a modern-day Stepin' Fetchit but the character flaws in Smokey (the lack of self-esteem, the shiftlessness, and eagerness to do drugs) mimic almost exactly the realities found in many of the urban areas of the country. Even though some positive attributes gradually surface (Smokey did have a car, but it was a backfiring put-put) his actions seem to trap him in a negative cycle of poverty without actually lamenting the fact. Smokey, unlike Craig, appeared to have a strong fatherly and motherly influence, while Smokey's mother — as seen by the bamboo curtains in his house and pro-smoking nonchalance she displays — is herself seemingly an addict (who cusses him out).
3. Smokey was "the bad influence" in the film. Smokey's entrance early in the film can be seen as an antagonist against Craig's workman ideal to keep a job and not do drugs. Smokey, after much whining and sulking, gets Craig to smoke on his front porch and before you know it, they smoke the entire day. The film's pro-marijuana message can be pinned solely on the lips of Smokey, and the film makes him out to be the neighborhood dopeman, but without all the bling and flossings that have come to glorify the dopeman figure since the mid 1990s.
4. Smokey was the clown, Craig was the straight man. Like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Chris Tucker and Ice Cube play off each other with comedic genius. The fact that so many fans want to see the duo reunite is a testament to the chemistry onscreen that seemed to carry the film to cult status.
5. Smokey was a drug dealer. And to top it off, he was the worst kind of drug dealer, one who got high on his own supply. This characteristic made him the quintessential loser of the film. Even a crackhead, "Ezal," played by Anthony Johnson is redeemed late in the movie when he scores clothes from a neighbor, and still later when he is seen cheering for Craig to beat Deebo. Smokey, on the other hand, was a "hype," and is seen as being addicted to marijuana. What compounds his indulgences is that his supplier Big Worm is expecting a big payoff from the weed Smokey is supposedly selling for him, but instead Smokey smokes it throughout the day Friday. This could possibly be a metaphor for the "loser" mentality of drug users and how — despite their best intentions — they trap themselves in drug debts and destroy their lives.
After production wrapped and the movie was screened, Faizon Love, who played "Big Worm" in the movie, implied that Chris Tucker was not too pleased with the editing of the film. As one scene was playing, Love said Tucker said "that's f--d up." His displeasure, coupled with his change of morality due to the profanity of "Friday," and his next film "Money Talks," led Tucker to turn down any other "Friday" sequels. It was reported that Tucker had a change of heart about the negative stereotype that "Smokey" presented when he became a born-again Christian. After "Friday" and "Money Talks," Tucker signed on for the "Rush Hour" franchise with Jackie Chan, and increased his salary to $20 million per film. New Line Cinema would have to pay $20 million for Tucker to appear in another "Friday," which seems unlikely.
6. Is Smokey ever rehabilitated? The film ends with Smokey telling Big Worm that he's "going to rehab," as a way to put a positive ending on to the tale of Smokey. And even in "Next Friday," a line by Craig Jones says as much. But the end of Smokey gives way to the rise of Day-Day, Craig's cousin. By starring in the next two "Friday" movies, Day-Day (played by Mike Epps) steals the show with his physical comedy, and continues to play the clown to Ice Cube's straight man.

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