Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve
Written by: Don D. Scott, based on characters created by Mark Brown
Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual material and brief drug references
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/20/2004

Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Shear Delight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ice Cube returns as Calvin the barber, and his new sequel Barbershop 2: Back in Business happily clocks in as a better, funnier, more closely cropped movie than its enjoyable predecessor. If we're lucky, Calvin will become a franchise and we might see more of him in Barbershop 3.

This time, Calvin battles a corporate hair-cutting company called "Nappy Cutz" (the black version of Supercuts), which is poised to move in right across the street from Calvin's 40 year-old family establishment.

In a timely twist, developers have begun to buy up huge chunks of Calvin's South Side Chicago neighborhood, offering loads of money to those willing to sell out. Taking their places will be Starbucks, Subway, and other soulless storefronts. But Calvin, a modern-day combination of Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, won't ever sell.

Following in the footsteps of Mr. Smith going to Washington, Calvin attends the town meeting and makes a speech -- but this isn't your grandfather's Frank Capra movie replete with neat and happy endings. This time it's up to the people in the neighborhood to decide where they want to get their hair cut.

The likable cast from the original Barbershop (2002) is back, from the feisty Terry (Eve), who is trying to become a kinder, gentler soul, to the white Isaac (Troy Garity), now the shop's star cutter who puts up with Eminem jokes and keeps his cool. Ricky (Michael Ealy) studies for his GED while Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) has gone to work for Alderman Brown (Robert Wisdom), a Willie Brown-like politician who goes where he thinks the money is.

Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) also returns, but this time the film flashes back to 1967-68, explaining how and why Eddie became a fixture at the shop. And Queen Latifah joins the cast as Gina, the local diva who runs the beauty parlor next door.

Written by Don D. Scott (Love Don't Cost a Thing) and directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), the movie introduces plenty of potential pitfalls with the crooked politician, an annoying cousin (Kenan Thompson) who weasels his way into a job, and the town hall meeting and a "be yourself" message, but the film deftly sidesteps them all with its loose and almost improvisatory style.

When Calvin begins changing his shop around, adding modern art and forcing his employees to greet the customers (and cut down on the swearing), our hearts sink as we feel the old chestnut coming on: Calvin must learn to be true to himself.

But this scene doesn't linger too long. The script assumes patience and intelligence on the part of the audience, hanging its fabric around the characters and the atmosphere rather than around ancient plot turns. These events are just another part of another day in the South Side of Chicago.

Best of all, Barbershop 2 smoothes out and improves upon the original film's shortcomings, namely the stupid subplot about the stolen ATM machine and the climactic chase/fight scene. Even the villains in this film come across as normal people with their own motivations.

Fans of the original film may balk at the lesser amount of time actually spent in the barbershop, but the new film does include at least a couple of vintage scenes, including hilarious and potentially offensive dialogue, such as Eddie suggesting that the DC sniper is "the Jackie Robinson of crime."

And at the center of it all is Cube, who has evolved into a commanding leading man after a decade of fascinating character roles (Three Kings) and brilliant career moves (Friday). Calvin is his greatest handiwork yet, but one suspects that this actor will grow ever more comfortable and confident, with even greater things to come.

MGM's DVD release comes with plenty of good stuff: deleted scenes, outtakes, a cast video commentary with Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity and Jazsmin Lewis, an audio commentary track by the director and producers, two music videos, a photo gallery and a trailer.

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