Comedy earns laughs, delivers message
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.
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.