Twelve years have elapsed since we last saw Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, their colleagues and their customers cutting up in the ensemble “Barbershop” film franchise. If you remember all those years ago, Calvin Palmer, Jr., (Ice Cube of “Friday”) committed a terrible mistake when he sold his late father’s venerable barber shop in the original “Barbershop” (2002) to scheming loan shark Lester Wallace. After he realized the barbershop’s legacy as a landmark in the south side Chicago community, Calvin changed his mind about his harebrained, get-rich-quick schemes and struggled desperately to get the barbershop back from Lester. Lester (Keith David) wanted to turn the place into a strip club. Happily, Calvin thwarted Lester. In “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” (2004), Calvin and his crew cautioned their elected Chicago municipal leaders about the dire effects that gentrification would cause if outside interests were allowed to renovate the south side neighborhood. Now, the long, overdue, second “Barbershop” sequel in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer franchise focuses on issues more relevant than those dealt with in its predecessors. This time, however, Calvin and his crew aren’t tangling with either a gluttonous loan shark or a greedy politician. Instead, they have to confront trigger-happy gangs and the tragic violence that these pistol-packing hooligans perpetrate. Ultimately, “Best Man” director Malcolm D. Lee’s “Barbershop: The Next Cut”(***1/2 OUT OF ****) surpasses its entertaining predecessors and displays greater concern for real-life issues rather than merely ‘good times’ comedy for the sake of ‘good times’ comedy.
Naturally, the passage of twelve years has wrought changes not only in the cast, but also in the basic premise of the “Barbershop” franchise. Of course, Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve Jeffers, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jazsmin Lewis, and Troy Garity are back. Unfortunately, Troy appears briefly as his Jewish character Isaac Rosenberg, who clipped hair in the first two “Barbershop” epics after Calvin’s African-American colleagues and customers accepted him. Basically, Calvin cuts Isaac’s hair and then Isaac exits the action. Meantime, Sean Patrick Thomas as Jimmy Jones spends more time off screen than on screen since he has taken a position at City Hall. Comedian Anthony Anderson, who stole an ATM machine in the original “Barbershop,” has reformed and runs a catering company. Michael Ealy as Ricky Nash, Leonard Earl Howze as Dinka, and DeRay Davis as the Hustle Guy have departed and been replaced. Calvin’s son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.) has grown up and attends high school. Meanwhile, Eve has married Rashad (Common of “Run All Night”), and they have had a son who attends school with Jalen. Calvin and Rashad are tight friends.
Although the first two “Barbershop” movies were testosterone laden tales, with female barber Terri (Eve Jeffers of “Blade II”) injecting estrogen into the mix, “Barbershop 3” has altered its formula. Instead, director Malcolm D. Lee shows the male barbers sharing half of the building with female hair stylists. In the Kenya Burris & Traci Oliver screenplay, Angie (Regina Hall of “Scary Movie”) is now Calvin’s business partner, and she has her own employees. One of them is none other than Draya (music sensation Nicki Minaj of “The Other Woman”) who wants to seduce Rashad. The rivalry between Eve and Draya over Rashad provides some of the film’s funnier moments, and the steam culminates in screams as Eve catches them in the barber shop back room. A lesser subplot finds Jerrod (Lamorne Morris of “Black Rapunzel”), one of Calvin’s new barbers unjustly accused of being gay, setting out to seduce Bree (Margot Bingham of “Burning Blue”), a frustrated hair stylist who cannot find a faithful man.
The conflict erupts when Calvin catches Rashad’s son Kenny (newcomer Diallo Thompson) swiping candy bars, and Rashad backs up Calvin. Earlier, the two kids had pled with their fathers to ante up twenty dollars each for them. Calvin turned Jalen down. Afterward, as Jalen and Kenny were walking to school, a rival, outside-of-the-neighborhood gang confronts them on the sidewalk. Before any bloodshed can occur, the local gang scares off the other gang, and then they slip both guys a twenty dollar bill. In school, Jalen gets into a fight. The school counselor advises Calvin and his wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis of “Grandma’s House”) about the incident. Jennifer discovers a gang bandanna in Jalen’s dresser. This sparks a generational gap clash between Calvin and Jalin. Calvin objects to Jalen’s thuggish dreadlocks. Worse, Calvin believes Rashad’s son Kenny has led Jalen astray with the gangbangers. Ironically, Jalen led Kenny astray. The night the two guys are to be initiated into the gang, Kenny refuses to accompany Jalen. Similarly, Draya schedules a hair appointment with one gang banger while another gang banger is in the shop getting his hair cut. Everybody scrambles to keep these two thugs from swapping lead with each other on the premises. Draya admits that she made a thoughtless mistake when she rescheduled the rival gang banger. This incident propels the grand finale, and Calvin and his crew decide to defuse the tension. The solution to gang violence that Calvin and company offers isn’t 100 percent successful.
When he isn’t staging high school scuffles and back room shuffles, Lee uses the energetic camaraderie of his ensemble cast and their spicy chatter to amuse us. Still looking like Civil Rights activist Frederick Douglas, scene-stealer Cedric the Entertainer spouts some of the best, sidesplitting lines in this clever PG-13 rated comedy. He doesn’t deliver lines as controversial as his Rosa Parks rant in the original “Barbershop,” but he keeps things lively. One of the more amusing scenes has President Obama (Reggie Brown of “The Obama Effect”) visiting the barber shop and sitting in Cedric’s barber chair for a trim. This humorous scene won’t make sense unless you’ve seen the original “Barbershop” where Cedric has a photo of Walter Payton getting a haircut from him. Like Obama, we cannot see each man’s face to verify their identity. Altogether, “Barbershop: The Next Cut” provides the right blend of comedy and drama.