Arriving 14 years after the original “Barbershop,” and 12 after “Barbershop 2: Back in Business,” “Barbershop: The Next Cut” is saddled with the task of taking a familiar property and bringing it up to date.
In the hands of writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver and director Malcom D. Lee, the strategy is to get political, with the issue of shootings and gang violence in Chicago as the galvanizing force around which the barbershop rallies.
Leaving aside the humorous cultural escapism of the early aughts, “The Next Cut” faces the racial and political issues of 2016 head on.
Ice Cube returns as Calvin, a successful small-business owner, married, with a teen son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), just trying to keep the wild bunch at the barbershop in check.
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With the exception of Terri (Eve) and Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), it’s a whole new crew in the shop, including Calvin’s best friend Rashad (Common), nerdy cute Jerrod (Lamorne Morris), “Bollyhood” barber Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), as well as entrepreneurial One Stop (J.B. Smoove) and uncensored Dante (Deon Cole).
On the other side of the shop is a ladies salon, managed by Angie (Regina Hall), featuring outlandishly dressed flirt Draya (Nicki Minaj), and the soulfully conscious Bree (Margot Bingham). The girls vs. boys layout allows for heated debates and banter covering everything from gender to presidential politics.
The barbershop in this film is a hub of the community where issues of all types are hashed out.
Right away, that issue becomes gang violence and shootings in their community. Calvin’s concerned about his son, and considers moving the business to the North Side. But with the threat of an ominous “enclosure” to stem the violence, soon to be voted on by city council, and an increase in tensions, the crew decides to take it upon themselves to promote a 48-hour cease-fire, with free haircuts for the duration, hoping to inspire peace talks and community bonding.
There’s a lot of rhetoric about “taking care of your own business,” saving your own community and placing the power on the individual to effect change. The neoliberal ideas are espoused most vehemently by Raja, the son of Indian immigrants who chased the American Dream – though the lively debaters in the shop are quick to point out that the playing field isn’t level for African Americans.
Less successful is the subplot about infidelity suspicions among Terry, Rashad and Draya. The quickly escalating drama and cheesy reconciliations aren’t as interesting as the spirited discussions about relationships on the floor of the shop, and feel shoehorned in to give Eve and Common something to do.
The relationship that feels the most fresh, funny and contemporary is between dorky Jerrod and enlightened Bree. Morris as Jerrod is the low-key MVP of the film, a comedic standout.
The cease-fire seems strangely ineffective, a short-term solution that doesn’t effect real change. But “Barbershop: The Next Cut” stays on message about community pride, family values and personal responsibility.
It’s a wholesomely entertaining film, though some of the political discourse is a bit fast and loose with neoliberal notions of individualism and respectability politics (Ice Cube, of all people, admonishes his son about baggy pants), and wants to be simultaneously both pro- and anti-government.
It’s a mixed message, but that perfectly encapsulates the confusion of 2016 American politics.
The Next Cut
Cast: Ice Cube, Eve, Common, Nicki Minaj, Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Lamorne Morris
Director: Malcom D. Lee
Rated PG-13 (for sexual material and language)