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February 2004

By Julian Roman
Barbershop 2: Back In Business
Distributor: MGM
Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Producer: Robert Teitel, George Tillman, Jr., & Alex Gartner
Screenwriter: Don D. Scott, based on the characters created by Mark Brow
Cast: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, Jazsmin Lewis, Kenan Thompson, Harry Lennix, Carl Wright, & Queen Latifah

Most sequels never live up to the original movie. In a few rare cases, the sequel is a much better film than the first. Barbershop 2 is the ultimate rarity in the world of franchise films. It is no better or worst than the first film. It has the usual drawbacks of a sequel, but is filled with great moments from characters we know and love. While the story gets a little hammy at times, the barbershop crew will keep you laughing from beginning to end. You get the feeling that the actors know their place. They work well together and their chemistry is the driving force behind the success of the film.

Ice Cube is back as Calvin Palmer, the owner of the best barbershop in Chicago's south side. The gang returns with him, Eve as the saucy Terry, Michael Ealy as tough guy Ricky, Troy Garrity as Isaac Rosenberg, Leonard Howze as African immigrant Dinka, and the one and only Cedric the entertainer as Eddie. Sean Patrick Thomas is also back as Jimmy, but he has left the shop to work at the office of the local Alderman (councilman). His chair has been taken by Calvin's annoying cousin, played wonderfully by Kenan Thompson of Kenan and Kel fame. The story kicks off with the whole neighborhood being gentrified. Big name companies are moving in, buying out the stores, and making it too expensive for the locals to stick around. Calvin learns that a big name barbershop franchise, Nappy Cuts, is moving in across the street. Nappy Cuts is the ultimate in the urban hair cutting experience. They have an indoor basketball court; fish tanks built in the floor, and the latest in state-of-the-art fro trimming technology. He thinks that he'll soon by driven out of business and must offer a similar barbershop experience to compete with the corporate world of Nappy Cuts.

The little guy versus big guy theme is the central plot of the story. The local businesses all want to sell out, but need Calvin to join them. They'll all get a lot more money if they can get Calvin's land. Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) finds out that the Alderman is in league with the big developers. Only Calvin can stop the old neighborhood from being totally run over by the big companies and their corporate hair cuts. The film intersperses present day with the story of how Eddie came to be at the barbershop. We see the shop in the sixties, run by Calvin's father, through the rough times of the civil rights era. I really liked this part of the story. The filmmakers want to show just how much of an institution the shop is and why it's important that Calvin not sell out. It's a bit tongue in cheek though with loads of corporate sponsorship front and center all over the film. I don't know if they were being clever or not, but I did find it pretty funny.

Queen Latifah has a few scenes as the owner of the beauty shop next door. This is purely a set-up for that film, but surprisingly not a detriment to this film. They work her character in as an old girlfriend of Calvin's. Her arguments with Eddie are pretty funny and not unlike the one's that are usually seen at local hair cutting establishments. The scene where they trade barbs at a cookout is one of the standout parts of the film. I can't vouch for how good Beauty Shop will be, but Queen Latifah is a pleasant addition to the cast.

I have to dedicate an entire paragraph to Cedric the entertainer. He is the star of the franchise. He lights up the screen every time we see him. His views of the world are classic Cedric. There is a scene where he talks about the Washington DC snipers and R. Kelly. I almost had a seizure from laughing so hard. He's so funny, yet brutally honest at the same time. The sixties flashback scenes are all centered around Eddie's character. I liked the civil rights stuff, but was confused by a long lost love sub-plot. Eddie searches for a woman he met on the train thirty years ago. At first it was funny, but became really bizarre after a while. I saw an early print of the movie, so maybe they edited that part out. It didn't really add anything to the story and seemed more like filler.

Barbershop 2 is a very funny film that has a lot of heart. While the whole corporate takeover story is a bit contrived, it is a great family film that teaches a lot about values. I love it when Hollywood makes a film about black culture that doesn't sensationalize urban life. I think that the Barbershop franchise would do very well on television. There's so much garbage on TV these days; MGM would undoubtedly have a hit on the big and small screen. I'm not sure where the franchise would go after this, but it should have continued success if the core group of actors continually return. They have a winning formula and I have a feeling we'll see it milked for all it's worth.