It’s been 12 years since “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” was released, but star Ice Cube has not appreciably aged. And the threequel, if not overly fresh, survives the threequel curse that has plagued many movie franchises with a grace and humor noticeably lacking in most series that make it to a third installment. This is particularly notable considering the length of time since the last installment. (The spin-off movie, “Beauty Shop,” which starred Queen Latifah, was made in 2005.)
In the face of harsh economic realities, second generation, South Chicago barber Calvin (Ice Cube) has merged his business the with beauty shop owned by neighbor Angie (Regina Hall). The close proximity of the traditional male and female sanctuaries results in comic friction with a PG-13 sitcom vibe, largely risen above by the extremely likeable cast, which includes Cedric the Entertainer and Sean Patrick Harris reprising their roles from the first two movies.Heartthrob rapper Common joins the cast as a barber undergoing marital strain with his hardworking wife (Eve), leading to competition from Nicki Minaj, as a beautician with a skanky ‘ho reputation. J.B. Smoove is also featured as a barber moonlighting as a real estate broker.
Movie sequels seldom have much of raison d’être. The last one made money so let’s try it again is usually as good as it gets. This is less the case with “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” which unfolds with a sense of urgency. There are important issues at hand, and the characters are here to face – and talk – about them. It’s hard to knock a movie because it wants to tackle important current issues, and no one’s likely to take the view that unchecked gang violence is a good thing, other than the gangbangers themselves.
Both previous “Barbershop” movies intertwined social themes with the comedy, certainly not more so this threequel, which tackles the City of Chicago’s growing “Chiraq” reputation for gang-related violence. Calvin is contemplating relocating his business to the North Side of the city while his son (Michael Rainey, Jr.) flirts with joining one of the local gangs. The shifts between the comedic and dramatic scenes are sometimes awkward, perhaps not surprising in a movie that also vacillates between scenes of remarkable spontaneity to scenes remarkable staginess. In fact the barbershop set, in which most of the action takes place, could easily be a stage set.
The script, by “Black-ish” writer Kenya Barris and actress/TV writer Tracy Oliver, has a TV feel throughout, the PG-13 language notwithstanding. The pervasive sexual innuendo wouldn’t shock the sensibilities of any network that has a sitcom on its schedule. This isn’t to say it isn’t funny, but absolutely no new ground is broken. Director Malcolm D. Lee (“Undercover Brother,” “Scary Movie 5,” “The Best Man Holiday”) keeps the action moving briskly despite the occasional stagey feel.
But “Barbershop: The Next Cut” deals with the serious issue of gang violence and its effect on urban neighborhoods with evident sincerity, and the movie virtually reeks of good intentions. The characters may occasionally get on soap boxes (and in fact they do), but for the most part Lee wants to keep the movie grounded and does. And no one forgets this is a comedy. Anything and anybody can be an unexpected punchline at any minute – Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and the Black Lives Matter movement are just a few evening news headlines used as one-liners.
Although the movie is an open love letter to the City of Chicago, it should be noted that it was not shot there. The production was lensed largely in Atlanta, taking advantage of Georgia tax credits, using stock footage of the distinctive Chicago skyline to set the scene.