It seems every black ensemble film these days yanks at the same old yarn of bringing back good values to the ‘hood – keep your nose clean, love thy neighbor, and treat your woman right. But Barbershop, swelling with the classic Horatio Alger-like “Pull your community up by the bootstraps” message, is populated by surprisingly well-rounded characters and comforting dialogue, managing to be both cliché and refreshingly unusual all in the same breath.
Ice Cube finally puts down the gun and bong (yes, he’s doing another Friday movie after this) in his best role since Three Kings. Here he plays Calvin, a soon-to-be father with aspirations for greatness who’s inherited his father’s struggling barbershop in the south side of Chicago. In a moment of panic, he sells the shop to a local loan shark (Keith David). But soon after, we meet the colorful crew that spend their day at Calvin’s: the loony old-timer barber Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), educated but snotty Jimmy (Sean Patrick Harris), two-strike thug Ricky (Michael Ealy), shy but sweet Dinka (Leonard Howza), pimped out “wigger” Isaac (Troy Garity), and tough girl-done-wrong Terri (hip-hop queen Eve). Spending a good day with these regulars, Calvin starts to realize his mistake, and begins working to set his error straight.
Better yet, this cast and the script’s easygoing dialogue make the audience understand just how Calvin feels. In what could’ve been a hackneyed tale of lost morals or just another ghetto comedy filled with stereotypes, Barbershop’s intelligence and humor make us happy to be a fly on the wall of this comfy cocoon where cynicism just slips away.
Of course, there are tired moments of preachiness and some terrible slapstick comedy. For example, Cedric as Eddie (who, I must mention, sports one of the worst Frederick Douglas-style grey dye jobs ever) goes off on several long-winded rants about “kids today,” and a stolen ATM subplot wears down quickly.
Fortunately, Cedric does redeem himself with some fantastic tirades about Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, and (gasp) Rosa Parks. Even if I think anyone who has to call himself “the Entertainer” can’t possibly be any such thing, he turns in a wonderfully poignant scene where he shows the “youngsters” how to give a good shave. Also among the better performances, Eve really shines as the hardnosed Terri, showing genuine warmth underneath all that grit.
According to one of Eddie’s rants that comes towards the end of the film, the barbershop is the “black man’s country club,” where he can come and speak his mind, be himself, and walk out looking and feeling good. This Barbershop may not provide you a soapbox or a good fade, but it’ll definitely leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
How ’bout a shave with those cornrows?
Review by Annette Cardwell – Copyright © 2002 filmcritic.com