Sometimes I just don't get film critics. Don't get me wrong, because I've been one of "them" for well over a decade, and like most real critics, I've had to endure non-critics lambasting me for not agreeing with them. I've always tried to stick to the let's-agree-to-disagree philosophy of film criticism, and try to never call out critics for not agreeing with me (unless it involves Southland Tales, one of the worst movies of all time). But every once in a while a movie comes along where I seem to disagree with a vast majority of critics, and I have to wonder how there can be such a vast dichotomy in opinions. And that's when I'm forced to realize these other critics are idiots. Case in point: Next Day Air, which was ravaged by critics for many of the same reasons Pineapple Express was praised.
Perhaps part of the problem was that critics and audiences were expecting something closer to Friday, or maybe even one of the many watered down knock-offs, including How High, Half-Baked, The Wash, Next Friday, Friday After Next and the animated Friday series (yes, there was a short-lived animated series based on Friday). If any of these films were the stick by which some people were measuring Next Day Air, then of course they would be in for a disappointment. Because while Next Day Air is in fact a screwball comedy, it also goes to places much darker and more violent than any of those Friday-wannabes go, making it a movie that is difficult to categorize, and for some people difficult to connect with. The truth is that Next Day Air has as much in common with 1980s action comedies like 48 Hours and Midnight Run as it does any stoner comedy.
Slipping seamlessly from comedy to dark crime thriller, Next Day Air is a tightly-paced comedy of errors that owes as much to the screwball comedies of filmmakers like Howard Hawks as it does the early films of Quentin Tarantino, the 1970s pairings of Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby, and some of Walter Hill's better movies. Donald Faison co-stars in this ensemble as Leo, a chronic pot-smoking delivery driver for Next Day Air, a company run by his mother (Debbie Allen). Leo inadvertently delivers a package to the apartment of Guch (Wood Harris) and Brody (Mike Epps), two bumbling gangsters whose ambition far outweighs whatever semblance of intelligence they may have. The box contains a shipment of cocaine meant for the neighbors across the hall, drug dealer Jesus (Cisco Reyes) and his in-your-face girlfriend, Chita (Yasmin Deliz), who work for Bodega (Emilio Rivera), a cold-blooded crime lord. Guch and Brody decide to sell the cocaine to Brody's cousin, Shavoo (Omari Hardwick), a notorious drug dealer in his own right. Meanwhile, Jesus and Chita are scrambling to find the dope before Bodega loses his cool and kills them both.
It would be easy for me to understand why some people didn't like Next Day Air if it weren't for a few things. First, the script is laugh-out-loud funny. Second, the entire cast gives great performances. And most important, the movie maintains a precarious balance between comedy and drama, appearing to be a character-driven story when in fact it is a gimmick-driven plot, populated with an eclectic cast of characters. The movie is more about this shipment of cocaine serving as the axis of an insane little universe it has created, than it is about the characters caught up in the universe.
The biggest problem with Next Day Air is that the trailer makes it out to be more of a straight-up comedy, while emphasizing Mos Def's performance. And while the film is funny, it takes a few violent turns, and Mos Def is only in two scenes. Even star Donald Faison isn't really the star of the movie, as Next Day Air is an ensemble piece. Perhaps this all played into unrealistic expectations for some people, but the truth is that if Next Day Air had been the movie is was sold as being, it would not have been all that great. It would have been just another entry in the urban stoner comedy genre, which has been played out for a long time. But as it stands, director Benny Boom's stylish mix of crime caper and screwball stoner comedy leaves most of the films it could be compared to in a cloud of chronic smoke.
With the assured direction of Boom, a music video director making his feature film debut, a solid script, Next Day Air has much of what it needs to be an entertaining film. The rest is delivered by a great cast with incredible chemistry. Epps and Harris play off each other exceptionally well, as do Reyes and Deliz. But it isn't just the individual pairings that work, it is the entire cast, playing off each other with razor-sharp comedic timing in a film that moves at a steady pace. There are problems to be found in Next Day Air--specifically supporting characters not given enough time to fully gel--but these problems are minor, and don't keep the movie from being an entertaining experience good for more than a few laughs.