Movie Review - Barbershop: The Next Cut
By Ben Gruchow
April 25, 2016
There's a scene in Barbershop: The Next Cut that does a more succinct job than any other I can think of of setting context for the movie's events. Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) is talking with Terri (Eve) as she's unpacking supplies in the back room of his barbershop on Chicago's South Side. She mentions a shooting the other day, and the victim being another proprietor in the same area. Calvin expresses a remote kind of shock (the kind we experience when something happens to a person that we interact with but don't really know), and asks how the proprietor is doing. Almost casually, Terri's response is (and I paraphrase here): “Well, he got shot. But he's gonna make it.”
It's the casual nature of the line that jumped out at me as a viewer. Consider the relevant aspects of this setup, and place them in a mainstream PG-13 studio film in the middle of April, one that's ostensibly a comedy. The term “political tightrope” doesn't just apply to the scenario; it's encoded into its DNA. This is the first film in the Barbershop series since 2004, and to give momentary lip service to what's happened as far as race relations (and violent crime in Chicago) in the last 12 years would be worse than pretending it didn't exist. From the moment the subjects are brought up, in Calvin's opening voiceover to the film, The Next Cut at least partially commits itself to the topic.
Credit writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and director Malcolm D. Lee, for not trying to back away from context in the course of delivering a successful comedy. This is a sharper, more on-edge Barbershop than the earlier entries, to be sure; that early conversation sets the stage for a film where the potential for proceedings to take an abrupt left turn into violence and tragedy harmonizes in an unsettling way with the superficial events. It's also a skillful character comedy, well aware of the relationships between its people and how to use those to heighten tension or sidestep it, depending on the scene.
It uses the gap between films in the best way it could: as a tool to let the characters age up and confront conflicts in a way that wouldn't have been possible had the third film come out in 2006: Calvin and his wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) had a son at the end of the first film; Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.) is now 14 and, with his friend Kenny, taking their first tentative steps toward gang initiation. Rivalries and unfavorable economic conditions have led to a rise in violence in the movie's neighborhood, and potential solutions are few; a local politician and former Barber Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) intends to push for making the neighborhood gated, with one entry and one exit. Such a strategy might curb crime, but it would also likely put everyone out of business. There is a tension, a sense of desperation and order on the verge of chaos.