|Starring: Ice Cube,Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Keith David, Troy Garrity, Anthony Anderson, and Cedric the Entertainer
Directed By:Tim Dey
Rated: PG 13 for language
When the trailers for Barbershop ran on countless screens across America, the only thing that went through my head was, “Oh, great, yet ANOTHER junk film that will rob Spirited Away of a screen at the movie theatre, which consists of nothing but dialogue extolling the virtues of the ‘booty.’” Now while Barbershop does indeed have a sentence or two about the holiest of holy places…the booty…it is also one of the few genuinely honest and moving films released this year, and the film (almost) completely shattered any preconceived notions that I walked into the screening with.
Ice Cube stars as Calvin, a man who has inherited his father’s barbershop, and has been running it for two years. The money isn’t quite so hot…he wants to start up his own music venture, but finds he’s having a hard time getting the customers to pay for their cuts, as well finding ways to keep his million barbers on the payroll. Nevertheless, the barbershop remains one place in Chicago, or really anywhere for that fact, for African Americans to come together, regardless of class or economic status, and be honest with each other (with a little shooting the bull for good measure.) The barbers on staff, mostly black (with Troy Garrity as the sole white barber, with nuances of Michael Rappoport’s Dunwitty character in Bamboozled), are as diverse as they come, ranging from the young and college educated (Thomas), the young and smart but not all that bright when it comes to the law, and Cedric the Entertainer, as an aging man who’s been around the block once or twice and has a thing or two to say about it. A mobster (David) wants to buy the barbershop and turn it into a strip joint, and although Calvin agrees to it early on in the film, he starts to see why the barbershop really is so special to the neighborhood it has become an icon of. Meanwhile, there is a subplot involving the theft of an ATM machine, and while one of the co-horts, Anthony Anderson from Two Can Play That Game, is hilarious, the whole bit is superfluous and steals time away from the barbershop, where the meat of the movie lies.
Although the movie starts out on the wrong foot, involving the theft of the ATM and the usual “booty” banter, director Tim Dey, as well as the actors, managed to pull out a huge surprise…they take the clichés that they have presented for us, and begin to fully flesh them out into not just real characters, but real people. As the day goes on in the Barbershop, the barbers begin to discuss matters besides a woman’s behind, such as identity, social class, education vs. street wisdom, and so on. What’s remarkable is how Dey treats every character with not only tact but complete fairness…the college boy ridicules those who do not attempt to make something of themselves, and he has a valid point. But so does the street smart who just might know more than Mr. Diploma does, although his reputation as a thug will never open as many doors. Heck, even the white boy wanna be black barber is elevated above a stereotype, and Garrity shows the humanity in what could have easily been a pathetic caricature.
Of all the characters, the one that will be most remembered is definitely Cedric the Entertainer, awful in Serving Sara, who makes up for lost time here by giving a helluva hilarious take as Eddie, who rants about everything from O.J. Simpson to Rosa Parks. This is one of the few African-American films produced, with the exception of the work by Spike Lee, John Singleton, and a few other filmmakers here and there, that is not afraid to lay down issues of race on the table, and not use skin color as an excuse for ill behavior. As Eddie says at one point, “Rodney King should have had his ass beat!” His scenes easily provide the funniest moments of the film, but leave food for thought as well. Not to say any of this stuff is heavy handed or ultra-serious, for the tone is ultimately light weight and fun, but thoughtful.
There is some stuff that could have easily been lost and no harm would have come to the picture. For starters, the subplot involving the theft of the ATM machine, while providing a few smiles, is easily forgettable and nothing but pure slapstick. It’s a shame really, because Anthony Anderson takes this less-than-pithy role and injects much energy and life into it…give him his own film, or if not that, at least a seat at the barbershop with the rest of the guys, he deserves it. Also, the “main conflict” between Calvin and the gangster is borderline ludicrous, as the gangster is played with such a sneering, one-note performance that he quite simply doesn’t belong in the rest of the movie with the real human beings. Things wrap up a little too neatly at the end, and requires no real work on the filmmaker or audience’s part.
However when all’s said and done, I still highly recommend the film. It’s not quite a masterpiece (with another month in the editing room, maybe…) although there is one scene that I dare you not to take notice of…after some arguing and bickering, the entire cast, even those not cutting heads, break onto into a rhythm and dance to a certain song from the 70’s (I’d tell you, but that might ruin it.) There’s no way you can tell me that that doesn’t bring an honest, genuine smile to your face, whether you’re black, white, French, Arab, whoever you are…I was expecting Santa to bring me a lump of coal with Barbershop, and got a small gem instead.