Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve
Written by: Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, Marshall Todd
Directed by: Tim Story
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and brief drug references
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/07/2002
IMDB

Barbershop (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Grin and Hair It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of all the rappers who have tried their hand at screen acting, Ice Cube is my favorite. In the acting chops department, Will Smith probably has him beat by a good stretch, but for sheer, raw screen presence, Cube is the man. He's a little bit Clint Eastwood, a little bit Fred Williamson -- a guy you want on your side.

When Cube burst on the screen in John Singleton's 1991 Boyz N the Hood, he brought a determined, scowling presence that was not easily forgotten or written off.

Afterwards, he balanced a career of likable genre flicks (Trespass, Friday, Anaconda, and Ghosts of Mars) with interesting work by directors like Charles Burnett (The Glass Shield) and David O. Russell (Three Kings). He even directed himself, in The Players Club (1998).

While the intensity in his face makes you pay attention, Cube also has a lighter, tender side that he is not afraid to show, unlike his colleagues. The new film Barbershop, which opens today in Bay Area theaters, reveals that side. And were it not for his rock-hard magnetism, the film would have quickly evaporated into a forgettable chick flick. (Writer Mark Brown was responsible for last year's Two Can Play That Game.)

Yes, Barbershop has its touchy-feely moments, but the schmaltz is kept at bay by a genuine sweetness and just a touch of grit. It's a typical day in this South Side Chicago barbershop, which was run by Calvin's grandfather and his father and now him.

Calvin (Cube) employs a staff of too many for the meager business the shop does. And, as in many ensemble pieces, the characters fall into neat little categories. Dinka (Leonard Howze) is a tubby Nigerian immigrant who needs dating advice. Educated Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas, from Save the Last Dance and TV's "The District") has a big head and looks down on his poor, "dumb" friends.

Ricky (Michael Ealy) is your typical street-level tough guy. Isaac (Troy Garity) is your typical white wannabe who acts "black." And Terri (Eve) is the tough chick who don't take no flack. (When someone drinks her apple juice, she goes ballistic.)

Meanwhile, a neighborhood drama has erupted when the fat JD (Anthony Anderson) and his thin, dumb partner Billy (Lahmard Tate) have ripped off an ATM machine from a neighboring store. They spend the entire movie trying to get it open, continually injuring themselves in the process.

In the middle of the mire, Calvin dreams lofty dreams. He wants to set up a recording studio in his house, and to do so he sells the barbershop to the sleazy gangster Lester Wallace (Keith David). He immediately regrets his decision and tries to raise the money to buy it back before he has to break the news to his staff.

The plot set firmly in place, the characters can begin chatting. It's awfully cold in Chicago in the winter, and the barbers mostly sit in the warm shop in their own chairs and chew the fat, only occasionally snipping at a customer who has braved the harsh weather.

The movie's wild card is Eddie, played in age makeup by Cedric the Entertainer, and reminding us of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall's barbershop quartet in Coming to America.

Eddie remembers everything that ever happened in the shop, plus everything that ever happened in black history. He has a million stories and loves to get arguments going, like stating that Rosa Parks did nothing more than "sit her black a-- down."

Indeed, the volatile mix among the barbershop staff gets plenty of conversations going. They range from petty brawls to meaty discussions and a few moments of inspired truth. "We have to leave some kind of legacy besides The Chronic," one staffer says.

Of course, the ATM bandits and the evil gangster plots eventually take over and the movie escalates to a kind of low-energy chase and shootout. But aside from all the worn-out cogs in this old machine, some genuine human warmth comes through -- thanks mostly to Cube but also to Cedric the Entertainer and the spot-on supporting cast.

In other words, it could use just a little off the top.

MGM's DVD release comes with plenty of good stuff: deleted scenes, outtakes, a cast video commentary with Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity and Jazsmin Lewis, an audio commentary track by the director and producers, two music videos, a photo gallery and a trailer. A sequel, Barbershop 2, followed.

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