After fending off the temptation to sell his family barbershop, Calvin (Ice Cube) is now faced with another trial: direct competition, in the form of a high-end chain haircut shop opening across the street. Watching the community give in to a greedy land developer (Harry Lennix, “The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions”), Calvin and his employees (including Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Ealy, Eve, Troy Garity, and Keenan Thompson) try to keep the shop alive, hoping the neighborhood will support their homegrown business even as they decide to change their particular way of conducting business, and lose their unique identity in the process.
2002’s “Barbershop” was a mild urban comedy encrusted with lessons about family, unity, and the valuable resource of community. Released during a hailstorm of less than ideal cinematic representations of the African-American community, the film was a rather large hit, considering its modest expectations. Beating its copycats to the punch, Ice Cube (who also produces) and company have set up shop again, a mere 16 months later, for “ Barbershop 2” (IMDb listing). And like a monthly visit to the barbershop, this sequel is basically the same style, just with a little more taken off the sides, and a much tighter fade.
Coming from the school of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “Barbershop 2” picks up right where the original left off, with Calvin and his community fending off a new threat to his neighborhood institution. Call me a curmudgeon, but I found the first “Barbershop” to be an earnest, but helplessly disorganized motion picture, mixing long periods of welcome thought on the erosion of community pride with awful slapstick and 1st gear romances. “Barbershop 2” has the benefit of hindsight, with new director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (“How Stella Got Her Groove Back”) mixing the varying temperatures of the screenplay with more skill and a genuine effort to sharpen the pace. He even manages to make the rather blatant plugs placed throughout the film for the upcoming “Barbershop” spin-off, Queen Latifah’s “Beauty Shop,” seem like a natural forward movement of the story.
Under Sullivan’s guidance, the comedy is actually hilarious (thanks to a scene stealing Cedric the Entertainer, and Latifah‘s sly ribbing of his age during a neighborhood barbeque), the messages just a little bit more touching, and the drama runs deeper. This sequel builds on the laidback charms the original introduced, and like a good continuation should, develops the characters and the ideas with more finesse. “Barbershop 2” is far from perfect though. It labors through the last act mechanics with inadequate passion, and I could really do without ever seeing the bottomlessly unfunny Keenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”) onscreen again. But Sullivan tightens the focus in his sequel, thus creating a better representation of the community spirit that Ice Cube was going after with his original film, outside of the entertaining shop floor trash-talking (“2” finds R. Kelly, Bill Clinton, and Luther Vandross as the targets) and romantic subplots that previously dominated attention.
What the two “Barbershop” films symbolize to the urban cinematic landscape is far more important than the films themselves, but “Barbershop 2” is a definite improvement on the core idea, and that’s all I was looking for.
Filmfodder Grade: B