“This is the rare franchise where each sequel improved on its predecessor.”
When 2002’s Barbershop proved to be a critical and financial success, New Line Cinema quickly greenlit a sequel that was released two years later, marking one of the first all-black film franchises of recent time. While Barbershop 2: Back in Business does edge its predecessor a bit by ushering in more contemporary themes of gentrification and small-business ownership, it didn’t seem to resonate with audiences as well as its predecessor was able to do so amiably.
Waiting over ten years to make another Barbershop film was probably the best option. The characters in this series are the kind that only become more interesting with the passage of time and as they themselves grow with wisdom and experiences. If you kept going to Calvin’s Barbershop every day, or every month, the antics would become tireless and predictable, even borderline insufferable. One can laugh and appreciate the unpredictable and loose-lipped Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) all they want, but to have to deal with him every day? May God bless Calvin (Ice Cube) and his undying patience.
Unlike with Barbershop 2, where little changed except the inclusion a new face or two, Barbershop: The Next Cut adds and subtracts a lot of pieces from a puzzle we’re used to having untouched. For one, part-time street hustler Ricky (Michael Ealy) is nowhere to be found, neither is Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), the lovesick Nigerian poet who had a fondness for his coworker Terri (Eve). Isaac (Troy Garity), the shop’s most successful barber at one point, and even more noteworthy being the only white man in the building, has gone from working full-time to just being a regular customer, and the ambitious Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) has quit to pursue dreams of working with the state government.
The shop has also undergone a bit renovation too; with the recession hitting the south side of Chicago (and, according to Calvin, never letting up either) hard, it forced both the local beauty shop and the barbershop to join forces, making one half of the building for the women and the other half for the men. Calvin has now entered a co-ownership with Angie (Regina Hall), who owned the beauty shop beforehand, and has brought her team of stylists, including the now single and bitter Bree (Margot Bingham) and the sassy and subtle maneater Draya (Nicki Minaj), who the boys just can’t help but gawk over.
As stated, Calvin’s side of the shop has changed a lot too, but constant is still loud-mouth Eddie and along his side are Calvin’s right-hand man Rashad (Common), the south side’s “everyman” nicknamed “One Stop” (J.B. Smoove), the laidback but overall lazy Dante (Deon Cole), amidst a couple others who provide variety and spice to the shop. Even J.D. (Anthony Anderson) returns, who you might remember as one of the incompetent buffoons who stole the ATM in the first film.
All’s well for the most part, but with the shop being located in the south side of Chicago, gang violence has inflicted a great deal of harm on Calvin’s business. With Calvin’s boy Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.) being tempted by street-life and townspeople being robbed, shot, or killed nearly every day, Calvin is contemplating moving his business to the north side, but not before at least attempting to hold a “cease fire” campaign at the shop in order to stop the careless violence that has plagued the city.
Barbershop: The Next Cut could compliment Spike Lee’s incendiary film Chi-Raq, which made a splash last year as it addressed the gun violence and uncontrollable amount of homicides in Chicago in a satirical but blunt manner. While of course Barbershop‘s tone is consistently more light-hearted, don’t mistake it for looking at the situation at hand sans any sort of respect or sentimentality. This is a film that looks at the issue tenderly and has a slew of realistic people trying to competently handle a difficult situation. Long scenes take place exclusively in the shop with both the men and women holding impromptu discussions on the matter and how the violence can be stopped and if it even can.
These scenes make the viewer a fly on the wall and that’s not a bad position to be in during the course of this film. At times, you might even speak up and voice your concerns as if the characters in the film before you can hear you. That’s the power of these Barbershop films; through believable and effective conversation, they transform you from a viewer to a customer waiting to get a little taken off the top. The film’s fluid inclusion of character drama is also interesting too, with Draya trying to woo Rashad despite knowing he’s married to Terri, One Stop’s perpetual desire to be more than just a barber at Calvin’s establishment, and Jalen being tempted by violence and gang initiations all around him.
These side stories and slew of great characters and actors (Nicki Minaj even deserves some serious credit here for being both quick-witted and fierce in her role) create a melting pot of strong drama and serious social commentary, which is what gives Barbershop, as a franchise, that zest. It doesn’t try to be cinematic nor does it try too hard to remind you of the place down the street. It reminds you of home and often comes close to being just like it, and The Next Cut inches itself even closer to home by addressing the issues that take place around the home and how a central, neutral location can, if at all, remedy it.
This is the rare franchise where each sequel improved on its predecessor. It’s also the first series I can think of where each installment was written and directed by a different person each time; if nothing else, see it for these features alone.