Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Barbershop: The Next Cut

2.5/4

Starring: Ice Cube, Regina King, Common, Eve, Nicki Minaj, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Rainey Jr.

Rated PG-13 for Sexual Material and Language

I haven't seen the first three installments of the popular "Barbershop" franchise, nor "Beauty Shop," the spin-off with Queen Latifah.  However, this is more or less a stand-alone movie.  I expect those who are well acquainted with Calvin (Cube) and his crew of hairstylists on the South Side of Chicago will get more out of it, but I never got too lost myself.

Calvin is still running the barbershop with his group of a half dozen or so barbers.  They trade trash talk and quips about this and that, particularly about their lives and the men and women living in it.  However, the violence is getting to Calvin.  His son Jalen (Rainey Jr) is getting into fights and toeing ever closer to moving his shop to the North Side.  But after ex-barber turned politician Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) proposes building a gate to contain the bloodshed (which will dramatically cut down on the shop's business), Calvin and Co. decide to take it upon themselves to fix the neighborhood.  They get the rival gang leaders together to declare a cease-fire for a weekend and offer a weekend of free haircuts.

For a comedy, the humor is the least successful aspect of it.  In addition to being neither funny nor particularly insightful, it's not there.  The running plotline about the free weekend of haircuts takes up most of the running time, but it doesn't make a lot of sense.  The most successful part of the film is Calvin's attempts to keep his son away from gang life.  It works because director Malcom D. Lee has a better feel for dramatic material and the relationship between father and son works.

"Barbershop: The Next Cut" has something to say.  It knows that gang violence is a huge problem, but it also understands that the problem is too complex for simple fixes.  The anger in this aspect of the story is felt, but not over-played.  The film is not a rant.  Instead, it's about finding a solution.  While the one proposed here is too simple to be applicable in the real world, the ideal rings true and is illustrated with enough realism that any potential preachiness is minimal.

The acting is solid, but the writing is too weak and the tone too simple for anyone to do anything special.  Ice Cube is fine in the highly charged moments, but has trouble in the quieter scenes.  Cedric the Entertainer, the franchise's breakout actor, is supposed to be funny, I guess, but I couldn't understand a damn thing he was saying.  Of the supporting characters, the only ones who get any screen time are Rashad (Common), Terri (Eve) and Draya (Minaj).  Their subplot about communication in a relationship rings true, even if it could use a little more subtlety.

"Barbershop: The Next Cut" is like that.  It's not great, but it's at least not a trial.

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