Chicago’s South Side has it tough these days, and that goes double for Calvin Palmer’s haircutting emporium, the anything-goes big screen Windy City man cave and hangout moviegoers fell in love with some 14 years ago in Barbershop. Gangs are out of control, poverty and despair plague the neighborhoods, drugs—and sometimes cops—are killing kids and meanwhile Obama, the so-called post racial President, is in the White House. With belt-tightening the rule of the day, the barbershop owned by Calvin (Ice Cube) now must share its quarters with a women’s hairdressing salon.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (he made the Best Man movies) from a shrewd script by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, Barbershop: The Next Cut is, on one level, the same as it ever was: a brash workplace comedy with an edge of social satire and some not-so-subtle calls to action. As usual, the vivid, lively hair-choppers riff on celebrities, politics, sexual politics and pop culture, sometimes seriously (there’s mention of President Obama, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner), almost always entertainingly, and often hilariously. And when Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Common and Nicki Minaj are throwing shade, the movie is so snappy and sharp that you almost hope the anger-laced wisecracks will never end.
But this time out, the film gets strengthened and deepened by a prickly new tension: the real-world threat of violence erupting at any moment. Kids are in constant danger. Bullets kill the innocent. The haircutters all hit the floor when gunshots ring out. Even the central plot revolves around Ice Cube’s character and his teenage son who may be about to join a gang. Is it time to pack up and move to a better neighborhood and school, or should they stay and fight for the neighborhood they call home?
Barbershop: The Next Cut poses serious questions and—quite a feat—even generates some big laughs while doing it.