2002, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Tim Story. Starring Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Howze, Keith David.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 13, 2002
“I told you: Stop that cussin'!” hollers former NWA all-star Ice Cube, not once but twice in this genial ensemble comedy-drama that gingerly sidesteps the pitfalls seemingly inherent in the genre, from the copious bathroom humor that Eddie Murphy has made his mainstay to the pimpin' and ho'in' cliches that cluster around most other black comics like barnacles on a ship bottom. Barbershop is so free of what we've come to expect that it's a breath of fresh air: sweet, simple, and shot through with a vaguely nostalgic tone and the easy-to-digest message that soul-satisfying work is preferable to the kind that keeps the benjamins jostling for space in one's pockets. Cube, who will likely be forever associated with the birth of gangsta-rap (as well he should be), is Calvin, a level-headed, twenty-something guy in charge of his late father's South Side Chicago barbershop. Married and with a child on the way, he erroneously believes the best way to survive his current financial straits is to sell off the barbershop to the local loan shark Lester Wallace (David) for a paltry $20k; he changes his tune, though, when he discovers that Wallace plans to turn the neighborhood fixture into a topless bar(-bershop). Of course, simply returning the money to Wallace isn't going to cut it -- the shark wants double or nothing, and so Calvin appears doomed to lose the shop after all. And if you believe that one, we've got a crate of $10 cellphones to sell you out back. Barbershop is peopled with an engaging assortment of peripheral characters, from Michael Ealy's two-time loser and ex-con Ricky to hip-hopstress Eve's man-troubled Terri, and from Cedric the Entertainer's caustically incisive Jimmy James to Jazsmin Lewis's Jennifer, Calvin's perpetually supportive wife. While most the film is set within the confines of the barbershop itself (which, to director Story's credit, never feels stagey), the story occasionally takes itself outside, particularly to revisit the ongoing plight of a pair of dirt-dumb crooks intent on breaking into the world's most impenetrable ATM. Forever wheeling the oversized machine up and down various staircases in between trying to crack open the beast with acetelyne torches, crowbars, and brute force, the fat-guy/skinny-guy duo remind you of nothing so much as Laurel and Hardy in their famous piano two-reeler. The gag quickly turns dull and repetitive, but it's repeatedly saved by the witty banter emanating from the barbershop and in particular by Ice Cube's thoughtful performance. The script, by Mark Brown, is a minor conversational gem; very few of the lines ring false, and whole sections of the film are buoyed by some seriously smart (and funny) dialogue. While it's not a classic of the genre (that honor goes to Car Wash), the low-key Barbershop nonetheless towers head and hairpiece above much of what passes for urban comedy these days.