Barbershop 2: Back in Business

There are a lot of funny moments in “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”, don’t get me wrong. Yet, in an attempt to expand its emotional reach, it somewhat dilutes the energy and charm of the original film.

Released in theaters in the fall of 2002, “Barbershop” was about Calvin (Ice Cube) realizing the importance of his South Chicago barbershop, which his father had passed on to him, to the people who earned a living there or made it a community gathering place.

Wisely, B2: BiB brings back pretty much all the characters from the first film, starting with Calvin, and we’re also given historical background about outspoken old-time barber Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer).

This time, the enemy is not a loan shark but land developers who want to replace established places like Calvin’s with snazzy chain businesses, namely a Nappy Cuts franchise right across the street. Now this is not just any barbershop. This Nappy Cuts comes complete with aquariums, the finest haircutting equipment and a basketball court, no less, as we see when the old gang breaks in at night-time to know what they’ll be up against.

To add more oestrogen to the mix, not that the don’t-mess-with-her Terri (Eve) wasn’t pulling her weight, a role was created for Queen Latifah as a hairstylist at the beauty shop next door. She’s a dynamic enough presence, but her part basically serves only as an introduction to her spin-off movie “Beauty Shop”, set to be released in November.

The film tries to integrate too many elements for its own good. We get a loosely explained romance between Eddie and an old flame, and a slightly more fleshed out one between Terri and Ricky (Michael Ealy), who also works at the barbershop. On the visual level, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (“How Stella Got Her Groove Back”) uses unnecessary bird’s-eye view transition shots with a swooping camera that feels badly out of place in this movie.

The first film was hugely successful (on a 12 M$ budget, it brought in over 75 M $) because it showed a close-knit milieu while giving great attention to the quick-trigger sentences and frank talk that made the regulars at Calvin’s shop so likable. It valued the familiar. When it goes beyond the comfy confines of the shop is when the focus is diluted in this offering, or at least made a little unclear. The movie opens with shots of several African-Americans whose accomplishments vary widely, going from Arthur Ashe to MC Hammer by way of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics. I appreciate the effort to add dramatic weight to the proceedings, and there is a strong flashback sequence where a younger Eddie confronts a rioter after the assassination of Martin Luther King, but these opening shots feel a little like part of another movie.

We cannot fault the performances. Ice Cube is once again solid as a rock as Calvin, and Cedric the Entertainer can be counted on for another helping of outrageous rambling statements. Cedric can be credited with Eddie’s particular speech pattern, with his often shortened words seemingly coming from a region somewhere between his mouth and his nose. Eve also handles her role very well as the main feminine presence, whether Terri gets in someone’s face or whether she has more subdued scenes with Ricky. And the part where a smooth-talking alderman pays a visit to the barbershop is absolutely hilarious as he gets more (or less, technically) than he bargained for in the chair manned by eager-to-impress rookie barber Kenard (Kenan Thompson).

However, “Back in Business” does precisely what it criticizes Nappy Cuts for: too many gimmicks. The end result feels a bit like a hairdresser tinkering endlessly here and there with your haircut when you thought the first go at it was just right.

Review by J-F Tremblay