A Couple Of Cuts Above – Barbershop (2002) And Barbershop 2: Back In Business (2004)

bs1In anticipation of seeing the newly released third Barbershop movie, Barbershop: The Next Cut, I decided to go back and give the first two entries in the series a re-watch. I remembered liking them when they first came out, and thought I’d see how well they held up over time.

The first film, simply titled Barbershop, was released in 2002 and was directed by Tim Story. Set in the south side of Chicago, the movie stars Ice Cube as Calvin Porter, who runs a neighborhood barbershop which was handed down to him by his father who opened the shop in 1958. Seeing being “just a barber” as a disappointment and wanting to better himself as he anticipates the arrival of his first child, Curtis decides to sell the shop to a local loan shark, the slick and greedy Lester Wallace, with the assurance that the store will remain a barbershop. When, immediately after the two have completed their handshake deal, Wallace reveals his real plan to turn the place into a strip club called The Barbershop, Calvin begins to have second thoughts and wonders if he has done the right thing.

Cube, who first came to prominence as a member of the gangster rap group NWA, but by this time had converted to Islam and had also proven himself not only a highly skilled actor, getting his first on screen role in John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz N the Hood  but also a screenwriter, with his first script being 1995’s Friday, in which he also starred.

bs3Barbershop is very much an ensemble piece, featuring Cedric the Entertainer in what has to be considered his breakout role as the elderly barber Eddie, alongside Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Michael Ealy, Troy Garity, and Keith David, among many others. Though the story centers around, Calvin and his efforts to keep the shop open, it really is the story of the shop itself and its place in the neighborhood, being the focal point where people can come together and be themselves, talk, share their stories, their concerns, and feel a sense of community. With sharp writing thanks to a screenplay by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd based on a story by Brown, and Story’s directorial skills, it proves to be a movie which, though it could easily slip either way into the overly maudlin or too broadly comic, instead walks the line between the two quite nicely and proves itself to have just the right amount of heart amongst the comic shenanigans.

bs2Barbershop was followed up in 2004 with Barbershop 2: Back in Business, which saw the reunion of most of the original cast, along with a few additions, most prominently that of Queen Latifah as the owner of a beauty shop just next door to Calvin’s. Also, original director Tim Story is replaced on this one by Kevin Rodney Sullivan and the screenplay is by Don D. Scott.

This time around, the threat to Calvin’s shop is not so much internal, as it was in the first movie, as it is eternal, with the impending arrival of a rival upscale chain shop called Nappy Cutz which is planned to open just across the street. The rival store in to be the first in a series of new development deals aimed at gentrifying the neighborhood, and is backed by a greedy land developer and on-the-take alderman Lalowe Brown.

Again, this is very much an ensemble piece, though it does focus a bit too much on Eddie, which would not be too bad, since Cedric is very entertaining in the role, but it winds up taking away too much time from the other players. Also, there is kind of a been-there-done-that feel to parts of the movie, as it once again places its focus on the shop’s place in the community, which, while certainly important, does seem to slow it down at times.

bs4Nonetheless, the film does prove to be an entertaining enough return to the setting, and does make a strong statement about the importance of local institutions trying to fight for their existence against those who would try to replace them simply for the sake of money.

Taken together, I have to say that though I definitely think the initial outing is the stronger of the pair, both Barbershop and Barbershop 2 are very strong and entertaining comedies, and I’m looking forward to hopping into a chair and spending another couple of hours with Calvin and the gang down at the shop.

Here’s the trailer for The Next Cut:

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