The Best Movie Ever | Ice Cube
If you had told the world back in 1988 that Ice Cube, the controversial rapper from the incendiary musical act N.W.A., would eventually become the beloved star of family comedies, an award-winning film producer, and one time fight a giant anaconda, the world probably wouldn’t have believed you. But Ice Cube has built a large portion of his career on the backs of those who doubted him, and he deserves all the credit he can get for building himself a lucrative, culturally influential career out of creativity and talent.
So with Barbershop 3 in theaters this weekend, we thought it was a great opportunity to celebrate the best motion picture of Ice Cube’s career. The only thing to do now is decide which movie that is. This week on The Best Movie Ever we asked our panel of critics – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to each pick one, and only one movie to single out as Ice Cube’s best. And as usual, they couldn’t agree on a damned thing.
Find out which Ice Cube film they each think is the cubiest, and come back next Wednesday for another all-new, highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!
William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Glass Shield (1994)
The music of Mr. Cube was incendiary, but his films – especially as his career entered its later years – have often been on the cuddly side. That there are multiple financially successful films about an N.W.A. member who babysits adorable ragamuffins speaks volumes about how savvy this entertainer has been about transforming himself to meet the needs of his evolving audience. But Ice Cube as a family man hasn’t made much of a cultural impression, and rarely has anything as meaningful to say about society as his earlier music.
Granted, Ice Cube has made several great films – Friday, Boyz n the Hood, Three Kings, and I’d even go to bat for Torque – but few resonate as forcefully as The Glass Shield. Ice Cube plays a pivotal supporting role in Charles Burnett’s smart, cynical tale of contemporary police corruption. As Teddy Woods, falsely accused of murder, he represents a society victimized by institutionalized racism. One of his accusers, Deputy John Johnson (Michael Boatman), is the first black officer at his precinct, who gives into moral compromise in order to ingratiate himself amongst his peers and be viewed as a model, inspirational officer. Never mind the consequences.
But Burnett minds those consequences. The Glass Shield transforms in front of your eyes, from a tragedy to a thriller to a damning indictment. Nobody is let off the hook, everyone pays the piper, and the righteous anger that made Ice Cube’s best music such a political powder keg is present in every scene. Ice Cube may not have written The Glass Shield but it’s easy to imagine the screenplay being written to a soundtrack of Cube’s music, and the original draft being titled “Fuck tha Police.”
Brian Formo’s Pick: Friday (1995)
I don’t know what ice cubes personally represent to Ice Cube, and made him take that moniker within the fuck-you rap group N.W.A., but—with the jarring crack of woke-status that happens whenever a cube hits liquor—it gets a moment in Friday. The moment occurs when Cube’s dog-catching father asks him for a drink of water because he got his ass (literally) chewed-out earlier that day. Ice Cube (cough, Craig), drops ice cubes in his daddy’s drink o’ water, but one hits the floor with an aural thud. A pause follows—in a movie without pauses, thanks to Chris Tucker’s motormouth—and Ice Cube looks up to the camera as he drops the dirty cube into his dad’s drink. What follows is probably the dumbest joke in the movie (his father, who wants his son to get a job, gets some dirt in his drink after his hard day’s work) but somehow it’s really appropriate. Cube was a vocal member of N.W.A. but he reacted to the elements, just as an ice cube does in a drink. Crack.
Friday was a bit of a vanity project for the Cube. Following the breakout success of appearing on a groundbreaking album (Straight Outta Compton) and in a groundbreaking film (John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood) came Cube’s original script. We still quote “Bye, Felicia!” When we use it now, it’s funnier than it is in the movie. Again, cubes settle. Friday is a great hangout watch. It has elements of a Robert Downey, Sr. movie and a John Waters movie spliced within a why-so-serious? Do the Right Thing supplant, in a single-day tale. That’s to say, there’s an awareness of the disregarded nature of their neighborhood—no one has a job, people steal from each other—but goddamnit a laugh gets you further through the day than the right thing.
That’s what the cube in daddy’s serious drink is. A laugh. And Ice Cube knows we should chill just a bit.
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Straight Outta Compton (2015)
If we’re going to acknowledge Ice Cube as a cultural presence, then the conversation must include Straight Outta Compton, the seminal 1988 N.W.A album that shifted rap from a growing subgenre of music into a dominant political force. I was around in 1988 to witness the hubbub, the news reports, and the controversy. Was it too violent? Was it too political? Was it too angry? Was it okay for white kids? The disquieting conversation about the not-so-rosy race relations in Los Angeles was suddenly and forcefully brought to the fore. Police followed the band everywhere they went, and the band was all too happy to poke at the sores.
While Ice Cube himself may not have appeared in Straight Outta Compton, the 2015 N.W.A biopic, he did act as the film’s producer, and he was featured as a character in the film (and he was portrayed by his own son), so it most certainly counts as an Ice Cube film. The making of this record was a watershed, and it was amazing to see the story told on the big screen.
The film itself feels, to offer a salient criticism, incomplete. It tries to cover so many significant moments in rap history that it begins to feel overstuffed and rushed after a while (you’re only going to make a vague passing reference to Dr. Dre’s assault charges?). But we wouldn’t care about Ice Cube were it not for his role in this story. We’re looking at the man from the inside (indeed, there is a scene in F. Gary Gray’s movie wherein Cube is seen writing Friday) and learning about why we should care. Straight Outta Compton is far from a perfect movie, but it does capture the hot, hot moment that Ice Cube was in the center of.