The funniest thing about Barbershop: The Next Cut is the fact most of the people who come in for haircuts already have impeccable hair. Maybe day-old fades are taboo in that part of Chicago. I haven’t seen the other Barbershop films in a good while but I can’t imagine the setting of Chicago took centre stage like it does here. The film opens with a nice homage to icons from Chi-town then goes on to lament the whirlwind of violence that birthed the ill-famed Chi-Raq moniker.
Funny enough our director here, Malcolm D Lee, is a cousin to Spike Lee who recently helmed a film that narrowed in on the violence and loss in Chicago. Malcom’s film is infinitely more accessible than Lee’s rap cum musical but the two films retain some likeminded earnestness. Characters in both films are tired of the violence and characters in both films step up to do something about the violence, prime among them Ice Cube’s Calvin Palmer and his barbershop left to him by his father (I realise now I do not actually know what his barber shop is actually called).
In truth Calvin is almost a part owner of the shop which is actually more of a unisex saloon when you think about because the barbershop now a space with Angie’s (Regina Hall) beauty shop owing to the harsh times brought on by the recession. While the men and women keep to their own side of the room, their largely random brash banter thrown across the room provides a ton of film’s humor. Indeed, that aspect of the film almost mirrors the randomness of actual barber shops and hair salons. The difference here is they happen in the same space occupied by an assortment characters ranging from the hippie to the nerdy to the THOT *cough Mnaj Cough*.
Some of the original cast like Cedric the Entertainer return as the kids-don’t-get-enough-whippings Eddie and he engages us in the quasi stand-up routines we expect and seemingly asinine tales about giving Obama a haircut – the film’s ever present source of laughs. We also get some new blood in the likes of, Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who displays his right of center political leanings in a setting that is evidently liberal and serves as the conduit of some of this film’s more preachy moments. Affairs aren’t as subtle as they think they are and some of the discussions start to resemble episodes of Black-ish (guess who gets a writing credit) a little too much. There is the temptation to roll out the phrase; low hanging fruit.
Things become a little more focused and nuanced when the film stays in Calvin’s lane. The relentless gang violence in Chicago bothers him from a business and family standpoint. The film largely retains the schematic of the previous two as Calvin contemplates some major changes; moving his shop from the South side of Chicago to the calmer North side and moving his son to catholic school away from the lure and threat of gang violence. However, his teenage son, Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.), is in that rebellious stage and appears to be drawn to the gang culture and we sense he will have some harder choices ahead.
Calvin and his wife, Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) feel their son may be being drawn to the dark side by peer pressure. Calvin suspects his co-worker, Rashad’s (Common) son may be providing the negative pressure and this leads to some well-done and restrained tension between the two fathers in the barbershop. The film never takes the threat of gang violence or the fears and concerns of their parents lightly. We buy into this narrative and get a sense of the stakes even though things unravel relatively predictably but that doesn’t matter because we do get the triumph we desire.
The Barbershop series of films always has the community at heart and it will resonate more if one is acquainted with the previous films. The local government is looking to curb the violence by reducing traffic into the community but this will impact the people and businesses negatively. Our characters are tired of the violence and believe their community deserves better so they declare their shop neutral ground for the gangs and offer free haircuts and weaves for two days, hoping to build a safe space for talking and hopefully a violence free community. We don’t see a lot of talking but there are a ton of free haircuts but the point remains hope and the power the community wields when they rally together. After Jalen Rose in the first film, we are graced with another NBA cameo.
Ice Cube never goes the pantomime route as he remains as straight as he has been through the series. He still looks like he is tolerating the characters around him and he actually makes the more comic characters more believable. We also get that obligatory moment for Cedric the Entertainer to flex his acting chops. In the previous films, there was always a scene that sees Eddie seamlessly drop the goofiness for a minute or two and drop some serious wisdom for Calvin and audiences with terrific gravitas. I recall my dad being very moved by his “I was glad I was here” moment in Barbershop after Calvin dropped the ball big time.
The Next Cut will go down as solid family entertainment. It packs a strong message wrapped up in an earnest story and hearty laughs. It is always a good sign when a sequel makes you want to revisit its predecessors simply because you are reminded of how much you enjoy spending time with the characters, who may have come off as lacking agency and archetypes on their own but seem more grounded as a collective.
By Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana