Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Starring: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Queen Latifah, Michael Ealy
Yes, Barbershop 2 lacks the original movie's surprise factor (this time, we're actually expecting something). The new film plows some now-familiar territory; worse, its "feel-good" ending is anticlimactic -- a real comedown from the delightfully convoluted one in the first film.
That said, Barbershop 2 doesn't in the least disgrace the original. This installment is still funny and warm, and blessed with wonderful characters, bright lines and far more perception of the human condition than you generally find in modern-American comedies. The original left no doubt that its real star was less Ice Cube's Calvin Palmer than it was Cedric the Entertainer's Eddie, the aging, lazy, outspoken barber (who never seems to cut anyone's hair) with an invariably outrageous opinion on everything under the sun. The new film even takes a poke at Jesse Jackson's objections to Eddie's pronouncements in the first entry (catch the movie's curtain line to see what I mean).
Executive producer Ice Cube proves himself both a generous performer and someone more concerned with the overall project than with his own vanity, giving even more of the film over to Eddie this round. Ice Cube has commissioned a screenplay that fills in the gaps in our knowledge of how Eddie came to be a fixture at Calvin's Barbershop -- explaining the older barber's fierce loyalty to the enterprise, as well as the source of some of his outrageous nature. This is far and away the film's greatest dramatic success.
Last time out, there was a certain tension born of Calvin coming to terms with his lot in life as the owner/operator of a barbershop -- and with how he would save the shop after thoughtlessly selling it to a sleazy racketeer who wants to turn it into a "gentlemen's club." This time, there's not nearly as much material; a reconciled Calvin now deals with the threat of a glitzy barbershop franchise -- Nappy Cutz -- opening across the street. We all pretty well know what has to happen, since this movie is, first and foremost, a comedy.
It was a savvy move, then, to hand the drama over to Eddie, whose comedy bits are pretty much limited to the present day -- and yet are easily equal to those in the original. Flashbacks involve how Eddie came to the shop (on July 4, 1967), a romance early in his life (that he gets the chance to rekindle) and, best of all, his relationship with Calvin's father (Javon Jackson, Malcolm X). This last story line is best illustrated in a remarkable, surprisingly powerful scene in the barbershop during the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. All of this confirms the things that Eddie said about Calvin Sr. in the first film. And this is what makes Barbershop 2 -- like its predecessor -- something more than just another aimless comedy.
That said, the new film doesn't shirk on the comedy. One-liners fly thick and fast, and most of them hit their marks. The subjects of comedy range from Calvin's bafflement that anyone would want to move to Florida, where they have "those funky-ass voting booths," to the expected assortment of Eddie's outbursts (his rant about being lactose intolerant is enough to make the film worthwhile by itself).
And, as always, the presence of the great Queen Latifah gives the movie an added edge -- even if her presence is largely an advertisement for her own upcoming Beauty Shop. (If her female variant on Barbershop is anything like her material here, it will be interesting to see just how nervous the film will make a lot of men, who might not cotton to hearing women talk about us the way we tend to talk about them.) Even so, she spices up the proceedings, being a perfect match for both Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer.
Barbershop 2 is largely just a second stop-in at Calvin's Barbershop, and like such a visit would be in real life, the new movie is a chance to hang out for a couple of hours with some old friends. And while that might not make it earth-shaking filmmaking, it's nothing to be dismissed lightly either.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke