‘Barbershop 2: Back in Business’

Instead of loan sharks, gentrification and a grandstanding city official threaten to destroy the lives and culture of a South Side neighborhood in this sequel.

By: Bob Brown
   The all-around Renaissance man of the entertainment world, Ice Cube, is back. Behind this film is Cube Vision, the production company he formed to produce his first two films (Friday, 1995; Next Friday, 2000), as well as Barbershop (2002). That movie got a lot of ink for being edgy — too edgy, perhaps, for the politically sensitive likes of Jesse Jackson and others, who tried to quash it.
   You just can’t say the things Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) does and get away with them in public. He slammed Rodney King, O.J. and Rosa Parks in one sentence, coaxing wicked laughs from less politically uptight audiences.
   Not funny? The funny thing was, Barbershop lifted the lid on a cultural institution that had been virtually ignored by both white and black filmmakers until then: black barbershops — as American as the cracker-barrel stores in rural Vermont, and a lot more lively.
   Barbershop put serious actors together with hip-hop personalities and comedians to re-create the intimate atmosphere of a small society within the larger city of Chicago. And it was a surprise hit with audiences of all kinds — although perhaps not as much a surprise to Ice Cube himself.
   This sequel teams the original film’s script and screenplay writers, Mark Brown and Don Scott, with a different director, Kevin Rodney Sullivan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998). Much of the original cast returns as well, including Cedric the Entertainer as the irreverent Eddie (who holds a permanent chair in barbershop wisecracking), Sean Patrick Thomas as the ambitious Jimmy James, hip-hop artist Eve as the tough and voluptuous Terri Jones, Troy Garrity as the token white barber Isaac, and Ice Cube as Calvin.
   Having wrestled with his conscience over giving up his father’s barbershop to a loan shark, Calvin returns as the owner with rededicated purpose. Now the struggle is with a chain barbershop across the street and with City Hall. Instead of loan sharks, gentrification and a grandstanding city official threaten to destroy the lives and culture of people in his South Side neighborhood.
   As often happens in sequels, however, some of the edge has blunted. Eddie’s zingers are cartoonish caricatures. The humor revolves around his appetite, his laziness, and a girl he almost got together with years before. As Calvin, Ice Cube has refashioned his image. No longer the bad boy, he now plays a responsible businessman trying to keep things afloat while doing what’s best for his neighbors. He can stand up before a committee and rouse emotions from the crowd as if he were a latter-day Jimmy Stewart. Truth to tell, Ice Cube is pretty good at it. His acting conveys a sincerity that comes across well on screen. And in real life, he has become that successful businessman who has helped other careers along, especially in the music world.
   Some of the romantic tangles and rivalries from the earlier film are played out and more or less resolved here, and a couple of welcome newcomers are added to the mix. Gifted comic actor Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live) does yeoman service as a novice barber with an attitude. He brings down the house when he cuts a skid-pad in Alderman Brown’s (Robert Wisdom) hair on the evening news.
   Next door is the Beauty Shop, run by Gina (Queen Latifah, Newark’s finest export). Despite her warmth and charm, Gina can summon her commanding demeanor and physique to win, or intimidate, any guy as the occasion requires. Why Queen Latifah didn’t make it into the first film is a puzzle, since she’s obviously a force to reckon with here. Be that as it may, film trailers indicate she will be expanding the character of Gina in a sequel-spinoff (is there such a genre?), Beauty Shop, to be released later in 2004. How it will compare to the Barbershop series remains to be seen, since the writer-director team from those films is not involved, and the production is being handled by Magic Johnson Entertainment (another successful franchise gone Hollywood).
   Barbershop 2 is a warm-hearted film with a message. Between the punchlines, it may seem preachy, but it hits home. Calvin admits that business flowing into a neighborhood has its attractions, but someone has to stand up for the people who are already there. He wants them to be able to stay and to pass on their own successes to those who follow. And that’s no laughing matter.
Rated PG-13. Contains profanity, sexual material and brief drug references.