An urban version of 1995's cult favorite, "Empire Records," replacing
a music store with a hair cuttery, "Barbershop" has been enlisted
with a worn-out premise that wouldn't have been deemed original twenty
years ago. Laid-back and rather inconsequential, the film really doesn't
have any reasons on the surface for why it should work, but it somehow
pulls through. Naturalistically directed by Tim Story and written
by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd, "Barbershop" offers
102 minutes of breezy, occasionally very funny entertainment. You
may not give it a second thought once the end credits have begun their
roll, but you won't be able to deny the good time you had with this
ensemble of quirkily enjoyable characters.
The story is simple. No, make that very simple. Calvin (Ice Cube),
who dreams of one day opening a recording studio in his basement,
runs a much-beloved barbershop on Chicago's South Side that he inherited
from his late father. The store acts as a mostly warm and always interesting
community between the workers and clients, and, in a moment of haste,
Calvin agrees to sell the shop to a shady loan shark named Lester
(Keith David) for $20,000. Once the agreement is made, Calvin instantly
has second thoughts, but acquiring back the store will cost him double
the amount he sold it for, and he only has until the end of the day to find the money.
"Barbershop" is a true ensemble piece, with a wide variety of colorful,
free-thinking characters and a number of subplots. Eddie (Cedric the
Entertainer), for example, is the eldest worker at the barbershop,
and delights in spreading around his controversial views on sacred
African American subjects. Terri (Eve), the sole female employee,
is at the end of her ropes when she discovers her dog boyfriend has
cheated on her once more, and then comes to work to find that someone
has drank her apple juice. Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) is a college
student who likes to show off about his education and knowledge, and
feels threatened by Isaac (Troy Garity), his only white coworker.
In a parallel storyline, JD (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Lahmard
Tate) are dimwitted criminals who have stolen a recently installed
ATM machine from an Indian grocery store, and spend the whole movie
trying to make off with it without looking suspicious. Little do they
know, no money has yet been placed in it.
The major plot device--that of saving the barbershop from new ownership--is
tired and, really, beside the point. Where "Barbershop" gets its charm
is in getting to know the likably goofy assortment of characters,
and simply watching them interact over a 24-hour period. A slice-of-life
that doesn't get caught up in quite as many cliches as it could have,
the tone is light and cheerful, outrageous when it wants to be while
never losing sight of the general realism brought to the inhabitants
and their conversations. Even if the characters are stuck in formula
plotting, they are most definitely not. They live and breathe and
think like real people do, and the honesty brought in writing and
portraying them is surprisingly endearing. In the film's best and
funniest scene, sure to bring the house down in any crowded auditorium
showing it, Eddie rants on about why Rosa Parks is overrated, why
Rodney King deserved to be arrested, and the true verdict O.J. Simpson's
murder case should! have had.
As protagonist Calvin, Ice Cube (2002's "All About the Benjamins")
successfully guides the rest of the ensemble through the proceedings.
As bumbling thief JD, Anthony Anderson (2001's "Exit Wounds") is a
genuine hoot, especially in the physical comedy bits involving his
desperate attempts to make his way through the city with a stolen
ATM machine. And R&B artist Eve (2002's "XXX") is surprisingly winning
in the film's leading female role of Terri.
"Barbershop" is not great art, and never will be mistaken as such.
The pacing is rough around the edges, the premise threadbare, and
the whole enterprise overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes. Meeting
and getting to know this group of characters, however, is where "Barbershop"
succeeds. The movie never once talks down to them, opting to present
them in as realistic and easeful a fashion as possible. Gradually,
you come to recognize just why Calvin's barbershop means so very much
to them. Their job is at stake, yes, but they are like a second family
to one another, free to vent their daily frustrations and empathize
with each other. "Barbershop" gets this key notion just right.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman