You don’t expect a comedy to give you the chills, but the opening scene in “Barbershop: The Next Cut” did exactly that to me.
It’s been a decade and a half since we’ve seen Ice Cube’s Calvin Palmer, proprietor of the South Side barbershop where there’s as much conversation as cutting on any given day.
The neighborhood has fallen on hard times. Crime is up. Gunshots and sirens are the soundtrack of the day. We see real-life news footage of recent tragedies and protests that have put Chicago in the national spotlight.
Says Calvin to his beloved hometown:
Chicago, we need to talk.
Maybe it’s because I’m from the south suburbs and I’ve lived in the city for 25 years — and through the years I’ve written many a column and done many a TV and radio show about violence in the city — but when Calvin talked about the violence has him rethinking his love affair with the city, it hit home, hard.
Not only is “Barbershop: The Next Cut” one of the funniest movies in recent years, it’s a poignant and timely drama about the dilemma facing many parents in certain Chicago neighborhoods where crime is a fact of life: as much as you want to live where your family has lived for generations, as much as you don’t want to be pushed out of your home, is it better for your children if you move the family elsewhere?
Calvin and his wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) have done everything they can to make sure their son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.) concentrates on his studies and his basketball game while avoiding the gang influences lurking around every corner and even in the high school hallways. But when a model student from the neighborhood gets caught in the crossfire of another senseless exchange of gunfire, Calvin contemplates selling the barbershop and relocating his family and the business to the North Side.
This is the serious side of “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” The issues are examined in appropriately somber tones, and even though “The Next Cut” was actually filmed in Atlanta, the discussions of violence and the scenes involving a nasty punk of a gang leader named Yummy (well played by Tyga) feel Chicago-authentic.
It’s impressive how well director Malcolm D. Lee (working from a script by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver) balances the serious material with the bawdy, freewheeling comedy pieces.
Out of economic necessity, Calvin’s barbershop is now sharing space with the beauty shop run by Angie (Regina Hall), so the stage is set every morning for gender (and generational) verbal warfare, with Nicki Minaj’s Draya leading the charge for the ladies while Cedric the Entertainer’s crusty old Eddie does the most of the talking from the guys’ point of view.
Adding to the comedic mix: J.B. Smoove as the smooth-talking “One Stop,” who can and will sell you just about anything imaginable; Deon Cole as Dante, a daily regular customer who apparently has no place else to go, and Troy Garity as Isaac, perhaps the only white guy who regularly pops into the barbershop.
At times “The Next Cut” is almost too ambitious in its attempt to cover myriad bases. In addition to the plot lines about Calvin’s family, violence in Chicago, Eddie’s claim he once cut the hair of a young Barack Obama and Anthony Anderson’s J.D. operating a food truck, there’s a romantic triangle of sorts involving Rashad (Common) and his wife Terri (Eve), and Draya, who has designs on Rashad. It’s the least interesting and least effective story thread in the film.
Just about everything else clicks, thanks in no small part to the wonderful performances from the deep cast. The father-son dynamic between Ice Cube and Michael Rainey Jr. is emotionally involving and almost heartbreaking at times. Common gives one of his best performances as Rashad, a good husband, a loving and a loyal friend. Regina Hall is a rock as the independent, strong Angie, and Cedric hits another home run as the hilariously outspoken Eddie.
I’m not going to tell you if Eddie really did cut Barack Obama’s hair back in the day, but when the truth is revealed, it makes for one hilarious epilogue.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and New Line Cinema present a film directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sexual material and language). Opens Friday at local theaters.