ACUT ABOVE

Com­edy earns laughs, de­liv­ers mes­sage

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO SEE - By John Bei­fuss

Scis­sors don’t al­ways stab, and hot combs don’t al­ways burn. “Bar­ber­shop: The Next Day” ad­dresses street vi­o­lence, youth mur­der, racial and sex­ual stereo­typ­ing, the “black­ness” of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and other po­tent top­ics, yet it proves as re­as­sur­ing and com­fort­able as a Bill Cosby knit sweater in the pre-sex scan­dal era. (And, yes, Cosby is on the re­ceiv­ing end of one of the film’s punch lines, putting him in the com­pany of such tar­gets as Oprah, Kanye, Bey­oncé, Al Sharp­ton and — less pre­dictably — “In­sta­gram ho’s.”)

The pre­vi­ous movies in this se­ries — “Bar­ber­shop” (2002), “Bar­ber­shop 2: Back in Busi­ness” (2004) and the distaff spinoff, “Beauty Shop” (2005) — were prod­ucts of that era, which may ac­count for the air of nos­tal­gia that suf­fuses this screen re­union. “Have a blessed day” — those words are heard while the open­ing cred­its are un­der way, and they func­tion as a pre­view of the project’s good will. This is the Chicago South Side with a touch of May­berry, a place where every­body looks out for every­body else and where good kids ul­ti­mately make smart choices, even if the temp­ta­tions here — gangs, guns

— are much more wor­ri­some than the fish­ing holes and sand­lot fields that lured young Opie from his stud­ies. Yes, Trayvon Martin and other re­cent mar­tyrs are name-dropped, but as one char­ac­ter con­cludes: “There’s never been a bet­ter time in this country to be a black man than now.”

Stur­dily con­structed (the writ­ers are Tracy Oliver and “Black-ish” vet­eran Kenya Bar­ris) and ex­pertly tooled to ap­peal to movie­go­ers of all ages, “Bar­ber­shop: The Next Cut” rein­tro­duces us to hard­work­ing, de­pend­able Calvin (Ice Cube, also the film’s pro­ducer), whose ton­so­rium is no longer “the orig­i­nal man cave” but a busi­ness that shares space for rea­sons of eco­nomic ne­ces­sity with a beauty sa­lon man­aged by Angie (Regina Hall). This new setup is a ready-made sit­com-style arena where the wise­crack­ing bat­tleof-the-sexes com­bat­ants in­clude such new and sup­port­ing play­ers as nerdy Jer­rod (Lamorne Mor­ris), huck­ster­ing One Stop (J.B. Smoove) and boom­bas­tic Draya (Nicki Mi­naj), whose cal­lipy­gian grandeur proves dis­tract­ing to the the­o­ret­i­cally hap­pily mar­ried Rashad (Com­mon).

Draya also is the only char­ac­ter who can dis­tract au­di­ences from the Ge­orge Jef­fer­son im­i­ta­tions and other an­tics of re­turn­ing scene-stealer Cedric the En­ter­tainer, cast again as old-school bar­ber Ed­die, whose in­ten­tion­ally phony se­nior-ci­ti­zen makeup and man­ner­isms are as styl­ized as his car­toon­ish — and very funny — per­for­mance. (He refers to the neigh­bor­hood crim­i­nals as “a bunch of con­ju­gal vis­its gone bad”). At the other end of the age spec­trum is Calvin’s teenage son, Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), whose fall­ing grades and ris­ing un­ruli­ness in­spire a de­bate about the lim­its of Calvin’s loy­alty to his dis­tressed neigh­bor­hood and its trou­bled pub­lic schools.

“Bar­ber­shop: The Next Cut” was di­rected with un­fussy ef­fi­ciency by Mal­colm D. Lee, cousin of Spike Lee, and it ar­rives as very much a com­pan­ion piece to Lee’s most re­cent fea­ture, “Chi-raq,” also crafted as a re­sponse to the epi­demic of mur­der among African-amer­i­can young peo­ple in Chicago’s in­ner city. But if “Chi-raq” was a typ­i­cally tur­bu­lent and dis­tinc­tive “Spike Lee Joint,” “The Next Cut” is very much a main­stream project with mass-au­di­ence as­pi­ra­tions. (This week­end, it’s likely to earn more than nine times the $2.3 mil­lion col­lected by “Chi-raq” dur­ing the ear­lier film’s en­tire — al­beit limited — the­atri­cal run.) In “Chi-raq,” women stage a sex strike to per­suade their men to put down their guns; “The Next Cut” posits that “hair­cuts can stop bul­lets,” so Calvin & Co. of­fer free cuts to all in ex­change for a 48-hour cease-fire. The stunt is suc­cess­ful enough to be­come “a trend­ing topic on Twit­ter” (judg­ing from the re­ac­tion of the cast, no achieve­ment is greater) and to at­tract such celebrity cus­tomers as Chicago-born NBA All-star An­thony Davis. (Chicago Bull

Der­rick Rose is men­tioned twice, but the for­mer Univer­sity of Mem­phis stal­wart never shows up. Per­haps this is be­cause the movie, for all its Windy City chest-thump­ing, was shot mostly in At­lanta, to take ad­van­tage of Ge­or­gia’s gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for filmmakers.)

“Chi-raq” was an­gry and mourn­ful. So is “The Next Cut,” on oc­ca­sion, but more of­ten it’s what Jalen would call “corny,” es­pe­cially in its facile ap­peals to sen­ti­ment. (The death of one young man in­spires tears but ap­par­ently no tweets, which may be why it’s soon forgotten.) When Jalen uses “corny,” the word is an in­sult, but for au­di­ences the movie’s corni­ness — the easy jokes, the soft soap­opera drama, the ABC Af­ter­school Spe­cial mor­al­iz­ing, the lack of R-rated sex and vi­o­lence — may feel fresher than the rote edgi­ness and bad taste so preva­lent in our cur­rent com­mer­cial movie land­scape, where even su­per­heroes em­brace gun­play and tor­ture.

WARNER BROS., VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Eco­nomic ne­ces­si­ties lead the bar­ber­shop to go coed in “Bar­ber­shop: The Next Cut.” Com­mon (right) and the rest of the guys share their space with Nicki Mi­naj (left) and Eve as a beauty shop moves in.

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