What is 1 + 1 + 1? 4, of course. (Duh!) Just like 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Well, the math makes sense if you're talking about the "Barbershop" movies. Is 2016's "Barbershop: The Next Cut" (PG-13, 1:52), which was originally titled "Barbershop 3", the third or fourth in the series? It depends on how you count. The original film, 2002's "Barbershop", followed the personal and business lives of the black owner (Ice Cube) and workers in Calvin's Barbershop on Chicago's South Side. The sequel, 2004's "Barbershop 2: Back in Business", followed most of those same characters as they and their barbershop struggled with the gentrification of their neighborhood. That film also introduced the character of Gina (played by Queen Latifah), who moved from Chicago to Atlanta and opened up a beauty shop in her new neighborhood, in 2005's "Beauty Shop". (Does that make "Beauty Shop" a spin off or a sequel? Ah, therein lays our problematic math problem.) Either way, a decade later, the South Side of Chicago has become an even badder part of town (to paraphrase Jim Croce), but Calvin's Barbershop is still there.
Much has changed in the years since we last saw Calvin's Barbershop. To fight the lingering effects of the recession in their neighborhood, Calvin and local beauty shop owner, Angie (Regina Hall), have formed a partnership which has them both working out of the same space, now half barbershop and half beauty shop. Calvin's Barbershop is no longer "the original man cave" as one character calls it, but the co-ed atmosphere livens up the place with spirited conversations about the various problems and perceptions of men vs. women, as well as black vs. white. These discussions don't solve anything, but they are entertaining and even enlightening to listen to as the audience gets to hear how others think.
Like the previous "Barbershop" films, this one is mainly about the colorful characters who take care of the hair and also those who sit in the chair. On the ladies' side of the shop, besides co-owner Angie, we get to know the loud and curvaceous Draya (Nicki Minaj), who constantly flaunts her sexuality, and the somewhat quieter, but no less opinionated Bree (Margot Bingham), who often clashes with Draya. On the other side of the shop, working behind the one barber's chair that faces the door, Calvin still dispenses haircuts, while his deceased father's friend, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) dispenses wisdom and jokes in equal doses. Calvin's best friend, Rashad (Common) works at the next station down (when he's not arguing with his over-worked and jealous wife, played by Eve), while a morally ambiguous character called One Stop (J.B. Smoove) is near the door dispensing
whatever will make him a buck.
There are a couple other new faces among the male employees, including the lovably nerdy Jarrod (Lamorne Morris) and Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), the shop's "only non-negro", as he calls himself
after asking permission. We also meet Anthony (Torion Sellers), a clean-cut teen who helps out in the shop, and Dante (Deon Cole), a customer who never seems to leave. JD (Anthony Anderson) is back as the fast-talking co-owner of a catering business and Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) is an alderman who is floating a controversial idea aimed at reducing neighborhood crime, which is the film's main theme.
There's much talk throughout the movie (including narrations by Ice Cube's character, book-ending the action) about Chicago's increasing problem with gang-related shootings. Calvin and company reject Jimmy's idea of permanently closing off some neighborhood streets to all vehicular traffic, but clearly SOMETHING has to be done. People are being shot and killed on Chicago streets on a daily basis and the barbershop employees have to dive for cover at one point when they hear shots fired right outside their windows, and, later, rival gang leaders (Jamal Woodard and Renell Gibbs) almost get violent when they end up in the barbershop at the same time. Meanwhile, Calvin's son, Jalen, who was born to him and his wife, Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis), at the end of the original "Barbershop" is now a teenager (being played by Michael Rainey, Jr.) and is hanging around Rashad's son, Kenny (Diallo Thompson), while both boys are coming dangerously close to joining a street gang. The folks in the barbershop come up with an audacious plan to stem the tide of shootings in their neighborhood, but Calvin is also exploring the possibility of pulling up stakes and re-establishing his shop in a safer neighborhood on the North Side.
"Barbershop: The Next Cut" is an entertaining but flawed treatment of a critically important topic. Although the movie is a bit talky (not overly long, but the longest of the "Barbershop" films), the conversations are filled with funny, interesting and insightful moments. The story's drama (which is more prevalent than the comedy) is effective, but its subplots distract from the movie's main message of how gang violence is destroying lives and neighborhoods. The 2015 Spike Lee Joint "Chi-Raq" tackled the same problem (also in Chicago), but was more creative, more entertaining and ultimately more touching than this film. It also doesn't help that this film voices dislike for white people in general and dismissively mocks points of view different from those held by a majority of the people in Calvin's Barbershop. Awkwardly working distaste for an entire race into their conversations, while also portraying black people as a monolithic group who all have (or should have) the same opinions do the movie's mission no favors. However, the message (The killing must stop and solutions to neighborhood problems have to come from within!) is well worth repeating – and this film is well worth seeing. "B+"
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