What can I say? I was disarmed by this movie. It’s been 12 years since #2 was in theatres, 14 since the first, and a lot has changed. But if anything, this franchise has only grown stronger and funnier.
Calvin (Ice Cube) is still running the south-side Chicago shop, which he inherited from his father 14 years ago. It has survived tough economic times by merging with the beauty salon next door, so gone are the shop’s gloried “man cave” days. Almost the whole movie takes place within the walls of this shop, so it’s too bad director Malcolm D. Lee doesn’t embrace its physicality a little more, but at its heart it’s a set piece, and it thrives within the barbershop’s confines. Some of the old crew is back, but fresh faces blend in just fine, and it’s one of the strongest ensemble casts you’ll see.
Barbershop has always been about the good old boys sitting around, chewing the fat. Now they’ve got some strong female voices to contend with, but the gender divide only heightens the discourse. Barbershop has never been afraid to contend with real issues: they talk politics, feminism, the economy, the community. Malcolm is parenting a teenage son these days, so for him the stakes are higher. The barbershop’s in a neighbourhood all but lost to gang violence and the politicians are talking about choking off its blood supply. Some of the barbers want to rally and save their shop, but Malcolm’s reality is that maybe it’s time to get his family out of there, off to somewhere safer.
The movie thrives when all the barbers and stylists are at their stations cracking wise. Customers come and go. The script is remarkably tight during those scenes. They rely on charming actors and a great interplay between them, and it’s there. Particularly startling is the camaraderie between Ice Cube and co-star (and series newcomer) Common; the two feuded pretty heavily in the 90s when both were rappers. Those days seem long behind them, so who better to broker the peace between rival gangs with free haircuts during a 48 hour cease fire sponsored by their shop? It’s a desperate move made by people anxious to take back their neighbourhood.
This isn’t a perfect movie, and you’ll feel some missteps along the way, particularly when the action moves away from the barbershop. But it’s enjoyable, smart, and funny as hell. And it’s totally accessible – even if you’ve never seen another Barbershop movie, this is the perfect time to plunk down and have your first cut.