September 13, 2002
Pushed back from July 12, 2002
"Whether you're broke or you're Puffy, you still gotta get your hair cut." This is how Tim Story, the director of the MGM comedy Barbershop, describes the appeal of the movie's main setting, a southeast-side Chicago hangout and the root of the neighborhood grapevine. "Most people don't know it, but the barbershop is the hub of the black community. It's the one place you can go to get all the information about what's going on."
In this case, what's going on is a recent robbery, and the shop's barbers are in a unique position to gather information over the course of one workday - the time span of the movie - that could help solve the crime and earn them a $50,000 reward. This is a brilliant concept that could play for big laughs and big bucks.
Barbershop is open for business July 12th, a date that should provide it enough distance from other 2002 releases (Undercover Brother on May 31st and Bad Company on June 12th) that will also target African-American adults, the demographic that will make or break these flicks. Though the release date is crowded with four other openers, Barbershop should have little trouble finding its audience.
Ice Cube, whose stock rises higher with every movie he appears in (we'll forgive him momentarily for John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, blaming instead...wait for it...John Carpenter), takes the lead here as Calvin, owner of a struggling barbershop he inherited from his father. A double threat, he also appears on the movie soundtrack, along with Eve, Jay-Z, and Ralph Tresvant (New Edition).
This is the second of three 2002 releases starring the chilly one. Rather than over-exposure, I see momentum building throughout the year, from March's All About the Benjamins, through Barbershop, until November's Friday After Next cements him as a certified box-office draw. This has been percolating since 1991's Boyz N the Hood, and I think Ice Cube finally blows up in '02.
The rest of the cast offers a little something for everyone: Cedric the Entertainer (The Original Kings of Comedy), rap star Eve, Jazsmin Lewis (How to Be a Player), even former Chicago Bull Norm Van Lier. Sean Patrick Thomas is also featured in his first significant role since 2001's Save the Last Dance put him on the map. Director Tim Story makes his studio debut, with previous experience behind the camera coming from music videos, as well as two independent films. Writing duties were handled by Mark Brown (Two Can Play That Game) and first-timer Don D. Scott. Production for MGM is in the capable hands of State Street Pictures (Soul Food, Men of Honor).
State Street's George Tillman, Jr. and Bob Teitel want the movie to feel as real as possible, so they planned the shoot on location at 79th and Exchange on the southeast side of Chicago, and neighborhood residents have been given the opportunity to appear as extras. Tillman was recently quoted in the Chicago Tribune, saying, "There are like 30 barbershops on 79th Street. We wanted to come back to the neighborhood and be able to catch the realism. That's one of the things that caught Ice Cube's eye. He wanted to play a Chicagoan and we felt it was our duty, since we've shot so many films here, to keep it as real as possible. Something like what Spike Lee did on Do the Right Thing when he shot in Brooklyn. That's what we wanted to capture." The 36-day shoot wraps March 1st.
With a reported budget of about $11 million, I see nothing but upside for this movie. It doesn't have to do extremely well to turn a profit, and if it resonates with moviegoers the way Friday or The Original Kings of Comedy did, it could see unqualified breakout status. My suspicion is that the folks at MGM will be taking a lot of interest in how New Line handles All About the Benjamins in the next month. A hit effectively serves as one long commercial for their star. And while a flop in March could have a (minor) negative impact on Barbershop's chances at the box office, it could also provide MGM some valuable lessons on how to market an Ice Cube movie so as to avoid a similar meltdown. (Calvin Trager/BOP)