Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:56 - Released 2/6/04

After the success of Tim Story’s 2002 movie Barbershop, due in large part to the media storm it generated, Ice Cube and his hair-cutting employees have reunited for the inevitable sequel, Barbershop 2: Back In Business. Directed this time by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (whose last film was 1999’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back), the second film reunites basically all the characters, but will spark no such controversy since its writers, Mark Brown and Don D. Scott, have significantly toned down the inflammatory dialogue and turned out what amounts to a run-of-the-mill comedy. Still, the reassembly of the cast lends a sense of continuity, and most of the actors, especially rapper and co-producer Cube, playing shop owner Cal Palmer, show considerable acting talent, so if this film is not destined for the kind of headline-making attention its predecessor received, it at least offers fairly good entertainment and continues the story (and fills in some of the backstory) of Calvin’s barber shop on the south side of Chicago.

In addition to the roster of barbers and customers from the first movie (Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, and comedian Cedric The Entertainer), this film also introduces a few new characters, like Cal’s ex-girlfriend Gina, the owner of a beauty parlor next door, played by Queen Latifah. Although I don’t remember Gina ever being mentioned in the first movie, I daresay her inclusion is not so much for the purpose of enriching the Barbershop story as to pave the way for Latifah’s spinoff movie, Beauty Shop, for which they have already produced a trailer—despite the fact (according to the Internet Movie Database) that the movie has not even begun filming. Another new face is that of Kenan Thompson as Cal’s young cousin who just finished barber school and wants a job. Thompson, who has worked his way from Nickelodeon comedies like All That and Kenan & Kel to becoming a new regular on Saturday Night Live, is suddenly on his way to a solid career, showing obvious talent in the numerous characters he has already established on those series.

The main issues of Barbershop 2’s plot involve the opening of a glitzy new hair cutting franchise across the street from Cal’s—which not only sparks anxiety about competition but brings a public political debate regarding the fate of the neighborhood—and several flashback scenes establishing the history of Eddie (Cedric The Entertainer), the crotchety old barber whose controversial opinions made such a stink in the first movie. Although Cedric continues his amusing act as the older barber, seldom working but always voicing his unpopular stand on just about every subject covered in the shop, he also doffs the age makeup (and the comedy) for several flashback scenes dating back to the days of the civil rights movement in the late ‘60s. Using an interesting mix of color and black-and-white, and several degrees of desaturation in between, director Sullivan shows the most artistic flair in the sections where Eddie’s younger days are played out, including his original employment at the establishment under Cal’s father (Javon Jackson), his loyalty to the shop during the riots following the King assassination, and his 35-year search for a woman named Loretta (Garcelle Beauvais), whom he met on the el, proposed to, and apparently never saw again. There is also a romantic sub-plot involving two other barbers (Eve, Ealy) whose bitter antagonism covers a smoldering mutual attraction.

As with the first movie, the plot-heavy scenes pale in comparison to the arguments and back-and-forth bantering between the shop’s employees and customers. Unfortunately, there seems to be much less of that this time around, so the film turns out to be a more generic comedy than the previous outing. It’s not bad, it’s just routine, unlike Barbershop, which seemed to be establishing its own genre. This film represents a return to formula, but with the acting talents of Cube and his supporting players, and the comic stylings of Cedric, it succeeds adequately enough at the lower expectations it establishes. ***½

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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