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Arts and Culture/Reel Dealz
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Barber Shop 2: Back In Buisness
by:Edwardo Jackson

MOVIE BIASES: Strong marketing campaign and Ced appears to be in fine form.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Ice Cube (Torque), Cedric the Entertainer (Intolerable Cruelty), and director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back)

Building off the breakout, low-budget hit "Barbershop," "Barbershop 2" is indeed "Back in Business." Giving a hint at what's to come with an historical opening sequence featuring Eddie's (Cedric) introduction to Calvin Sr.'s barbershop, BS2 soon brings us up to the present, with a fully committed Calvin Jr. (Cube) managing a successful, people-oriented business cum-cultural hub of the community. Between an anger management, Crystal-Lite version of Terri (Eve), the once-rookie, now head case, all-star white barber Isaac (Troy Garity), a thug life posing Ricky (Michael Ealy) who's quietly trying to better himself, the lovelorn Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), and the endlessly riffing Eddie, Calvin Jr.'s got his hands full. Well those hands just got fuller when a wave of gentrification sweeps in the promise of a hair cuttery chain across the street called Nappy Cutz, which threatens to ruin not only Calvin's business but also the soul of the community.

I have to admit that I liked the first "Barbershop," but didn't love it. I thought the dopey subplot with Anthony Anderson and the ATM machine was an annoying (but necessary) cutaway from the potentially static action at the shop. But with BS2, flush with a doubled production budget (but still small by Hollywood standards at an estimated $30 million), bang-up script, and new director, MGM's hopes for a classy, comedic, African-American franchise are gloriously fulfilled.

Sporting a pudgy, mellowed-by-stardom 30ish demeanor, Ice Cube, perpetually scowling yet not carrying the same threat of menace, is appropriately the straight man center for this increasingly diverse South Side Chicago world. Never quite the prankster but never the butt of jokes either, Cube's Calvin Jr. has been tempered by fatherhood, his eyes opened from the selfishness of BS1Calvin to a genuine sense of communalism. The steely Michael Ealy still carries the same baby-faced charm that belies a flash of thug/street sense; Eve, thanks to her weekly apprenticeship on her self-titled sitcom, has matured into a (while not great, but at least) dependable actor; Troy Garity plays his cocky, highly skilled barber with just the right sense of bravado but also a sense of his place - never the token, not quite a "brotha" either, but still family; and Cedric is…well, Cedric. Given second billing and more scenery to chew, Cedric revives his "controversial" (so what if "Martin Luther King was a ho!"), elder statesman role of Eddie with the same notion for cutting up ("Trent Lott is the poster child for stupid white men") and calling it straight. But the best move of the movie was giving his soulful yet loudmouthed Eddie a BACKSTORY. By weaving ongoing flashbacks of the younger Eddie romancing the One That Got Away (Garcelle Beauvais) as well as his seminal tie to the survival of Calvin Sr.'s barbershop, the filmmakers have grounded the movie in the pervasive theme of history and tradition being the saving grace of the future. Can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been, right?

Everyone here is better, mostly because they have a better script with which to work, credited to Don D. Scott (Barbershop). The script covers issues of loyalty, self-honesty, diversity, community, commercial gentrification, and professional ethics with the same ease as it does its easy-flowing, realistic dialogue. Not only is it funny, but it's about something. Where else would you find a comedy brave enough to take R. Kelly, Kobe, Luther Vandross, the DC sniper, race riots, and the Black Panthers head on - and extract gut-busting laughs? And with the countdown to the opening of technologically advanced, slickly stylish Nappy Cutz (complete with indoor basketball court and giant fish tank) looming ominously in the foreground, you truly invest in Calvin's hopeless fight against a formidable behemoth he can't possibly beat.

But one of the most key additions is the director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, who thankfully took over at the eleventh hour for BS1's director Tim Story. It's as if the budding franchise had a heart transplant, infusing the already well-polished script with dollops of style and historical verve. His handling of the actors is superb, too, allowing Kenan Thompson's energetically annoying neophyte barber enough rope to hilariously entertain but not enough to coonishly hang himself (or the movie, for that matter). Thanks to innovative camerawork by Tom Priestley Jr., hip (but not distractingly so) editing by Paul Seydor, and creative shot selection that includes a musical sequence of barbershop sound effects and numerous aerial flybys of the Chicago South Side neighborhood whose soul they are trying to preserve (in all fairness, Sullivan had more cash to work with than Story did), Sullivan is able to embrace the diversity of his subjects without losing sight of the nuts and bolts of the story. Unerringly focused on the themes of big versus small, change versus tradition, corporate versus community, the director "edutains" the audience in subtle ways. Take the heated, centerpiece snappin' contest between Queen Latifah's Gina and Cedric's Eddie, which is resolved in a peaceful, non-confrontational manner, exploding the stereotype that black folks are more violent than others.

As we have seen last year, bigger budget sequels do not a hit make (ahem, "Matrix Revolutions"). Sure there's more cash, product placement, and a stronger marketing campaign, but the one thing that is often overlooked is growth. Business 101: in order to open a franchise to expand your business, you must accurately plan for growth. In BS2, the characters' growth from the first one is evident but still shows that they have miles to go, giving their arcs somewhere to go in this movie. A deepening of core values and raising of the stakes in the script is also a key indicator of growth. Adding overall complexity and hidden backstories to favorite characters we thought we had pegged shows that this franchise-in-the-making continues to flourish.

Franchising aside, this is a fearless, confident MOVIE; and finally a comedy that is truly representative of the ever-shifting realities and intricacies of the black experience. When I decried the state of "black film" last year and how much I hated it in its present form, surprisingly, many of you agreed. Well, I'm "decrying" no more. If "Barbershop 2" is a harbinger of the greatness ahead, then black film has just evolved.

@@@@ REELS
An urban legend/instant classic.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree with The Reel Deal? Think he's talkin' out his...HUSH YO' MOUF! (I'm only talkin' about The Reel Deal!) Email him at ReelReviewz@aol.com!

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com

© 2004, Edwardo


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