Barbershop: The Next Cut and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Malcolm D Lee
I tend not to review movies if I haven’t seen the original films first; even if the connection between them is tenuous at best. Mostly it’s an excuse to keep my own sanity (*cough* Allegiant *cough*) but I think it’s fair to say that those who go see sequels without seeing the previous films are gonna be hard pressed to review it in the context of the series as well as in the context of itself as a singular film. That said, I made an exception here; primarily because this is one of those years later sequels which means they’ll likely have a refresher of sorts at the beginning to catch everyone up to speed, and also because I thought the trailers looked pretty good with a solid cast and genuinely funny moments; That and the added bonus of seeing Nikki Minaj onscreen. ANYWAY! Does this manage to bring in a new audience while also pleasing the longtime fans of the series, or will this be a disaster borne from the cast and crew’s desire to just cash in on their previous success? Let’s find out!!
The movie primarily follows the misadventures of Calvin (Ice Cube) who runs a joint barber shop/beauty shop where many of his friends work, including his wife Angie (Regina Hall). Going to work every day with the people you love, shooting the shit, cutting hair; sounds like the perfect life, right? Well it WOULD be if the shop wasn’t right smack dab in the middle of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago! Calvin has to worry about gangsters shooting guns outside the shop, customers shooting them INSIDE the shop, and even his own son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr) get suckered and seduced into the thug life. Can this little barber shop prove to be the catalyst for real change in the neighborhood once they decide to take direct action? Will Calvin sell the shop so that he and his family can get out of the bad neighborhood while leaving all his friends twisting in the wind? Is Cedric the Entertainer going to live up to his name for once!?
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from this, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Its story is no great shakes and just kind of meanders around whenever the movie can bother getting back to it, but even with that it still manages to be funny and entertaining with a very talented cast of actors and some reasonably sharp written dialogue. Really, its biggest flaw is that it even TRIES to have a plot outside of running the barber shop and the occasionally wacky customer that comes through the door. The movie wants to make a message about life in rough neighborhoods in between the wacky shenanigans of Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and Common, and while I appreciate the message they’re trying to tell, it honestly comes off a bit amateurish and is just not as enjoyable as when these characters are just being themselves, bouncing off of each other’s personalities, and seeing what jokes stick.
First off, I don’t mind the structure leaving a lot to be desired as it’s pretty much a collection of bits and set pieces strung together loosely to fill an hour and a half. That can work for comedies if done well, and I believe they managed to pull it off here. Hell, I would have probably liked this movie more if it went even further with that idea and had the movie take place ENTIRELY in the barber shop instead of trying to throw in those extraneous subplots that are pretty underwhelming. I mean we let directors like Linklater get away with having no plot and barely a structure in movies like Slacker and Waking Life, so why not for a movie about a barbershop which is already a perfect set up for there to be lots of conversations and shenanigans without the need for an overarching story? Even more so than that, the movie this reminds me the most of is Clerks 2, which is Kevin Smith’s last film worth a damn and is actually REALLY good. Honestly, the premises are almost EXACTLY the same, what with this being a sequel done over a decade later with the same cast of characters that are trying to recapture the glory of what made the original such a hit. I thought that movie had a bit more of what I was talking about where it barely left the restaurant Dante and Randal were working at, but then Clerks 2 wasn’t trying to make a statement about living in rough neighborhoods, so maybe that was a necessary tradeoff. I can’t say for certain if people have that much of an affection for the original barbershop (nor its sequel), but for someone who coming into this one first it does feel like a capstone to something that means a lot to the people involved. That said; how friendly is it to newcomers? Well it certainly has the problems that coming into a movie series at the end what with having to catch up on who these people are, but the continuity wasn’t so dense that I couldn’t get into what was going on. I did have some questions though that I wish were answered. For instance, Common plays a character named Rashad whose wife in this (Terri played by Eve) seems to have a full time job as a stylist for celebrities… or something like that, yet we see her several times in the barbershop cutting hair. Why would she still be working there if she already has such a (presumably) high paying and time intensive job? Also, while I thought JB Smooove’s character One Stop was pretty funny, he didn’t seem to fit with what Calvin is trying to do with his barber shop. The guy seems to be doing PRETTY illegal shit right in Calvin’s place of business which is something I wouldn’t have expected him to tolerate. It also doesn’t seem like this character was in the previous movies (JB Smoove isn’t in the cast list for the first two movies) but he comes into this like a character we should already know about and would understand why Calvin tolerates him.
Those things hardly presented a problem for the movie though, and it was just fun to sit back and listen to everyone basically do their stand up routine and sitcom jokes for a majority of this film. There really isn’t a weak link in the bunch as everyone pulls their weight and has moments to shine with Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and Lamorne Morris (playing Jerrod) having some of the best moments. And yes; Nicki Minaj does a fine job here. I don’t know if she’s much of an actor based on this movie alone, but she’s just bursting with raw charisma and charm that does just enough here (along with the decent dialogue she’s given) to keep her from embarrassing herself. Then again, the low cut tops they put her in didn’t hurt things either.
So what’s the problem here? Well, the stories outside of the barbershop are pretty weak, with Calvin’s son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr) being the absolute worst. I get what they’re going for here with Jalen slowly being brought into a gang run by some local tough guy name Yummy (Tyga) as it’s something that many parents have to deal with when they can’t always be there to watch over their children or live somewhere where the threat of that happening isn’t a constant weight on their shoulders. The problem is that we just don’t get to know Jalen at all and his only purpose here is to provide motivation for Calvin to do what he does in the movie. Jalen is a plot device at best, with no real motivations to join the gang and ESPECIALLY for what he does at the end of the movie. He’s just a blank slate for the writers to use as an embodiment of the fears of (primarily) black parents, but since the character doesn’t have a fleshed out arc it ends up falling completely flat.
On top of that, we also have a subplot with Common and Terri’s marriage being strained and Nickie Minaj acting as a wedge that’s driven between. It’s not bad I guess, but it’s also not that interesting and takes up time that could have been filled with more jokes or social commentary. Speaking of which; this movie is no Chiraq (though this IS directed by Spike Lee’s cousin), but for a widely released comedy starring Ice Cube, I think it gets its message across fine. It’s heavy handed and histrionic, but that’s kind of what you expect for a movie about this subject matter, and it’s heart is definitely in the right place. That’s really the only overarching plot that I liked all the way through which is the ceasefire the barbershop sets up to try to quell two rival gangs long enough to AT LEAST not shoot each other for one weekend, but then it probably works best for me because it gives us a reason to stay IN the barbershop instead of going OUT of it.
Is it a perfect or even all that original movie? Not really, but what I appreciate is that something that could have been so thoroughly mediocre knew where to focus its strengths, what needed to be extra sharp, and managed to make one of the better recent examples of a barely above sitcom level comedy. I know that doesn’t sound like high praise, but the same way television shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones can outdo similar films with nary a sweat, a lot of television comedies are better than their big screened counterparts that have a tendency to overindulge in the laxer restrictions. I got enough laughs from it that I’m glad that I saw it in the theaters and think that, along with The Boss, it’s one of the better comedies of the year. JUST DON’T MAKE ANOTHER FRIDAY SEQUEL!!
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