'Barbershop 2': Still a Cut Above

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2004

IN "BARBERSHOP 2: Back in Business," a solid follow-up to the sweetly hilarious 2002 comedy-drama about a struggling haircuttery on Chicago's South Side, the unofficial family of staff and hangers-on at Calvin Palmer's (Ice Cube) beloved neighborhood barbershop returns to the screen intact, only this time everyone is a little more grown up.

Calvin, whose wife was pregnant last outing, is now the proud father of a handsome baby boy. Upwardly mobile Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) has turned in his barber's smock and clippers for a suit and cell phone -- and a job in the local alderman's office. Isaac Rosenberg (Troy Garity), the shop's lone white stylist, has gone from pariah to the shop's best, and most in-demand, tonsorial artist, signing his work with a small "i" etched into the hair on the nape of the neck.

And what of Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer)? Well, the shop's senior barber is a lot grayer now, for one thing, looking even more like the love child of Frederick Douglass and the Bride of Frankenstein. As for his famously indecorous mouth, which in the last film dissed Rodney King, Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and other sacred cows, it's still in fine fettle. Here, he sinks his teeth into the scandal-plagued Michael Jackson, R. Kelly and Kobe Bryant, even -- over the vociferous protests of his shop mates, who plead for mercy due to the man's poor health -- singer Luther Vandross.

Okay, so some of the gang hasn't grown up -- thank God.

In many ways, "Barbershop 2" is the exact same movie as "Barbershop," give or take some minor tweaking that hasn't hurt its robust heart or wickedly subversive funny bone. Calvin's shop is still in financial trouble, only this time it's not from a crooked businessman who wants to turn the place into a strip joint, but from the arrival of a slick and impersonal chain barbershop just across the street, whose owner threatens to put Calvin out of business unless Calvin persuades the other mom-and-pop stores on his block to take a buyout from the greedy developer his new rival is in cahoots with.

The rest of the formula repeats itself with splendid, if not unexpected, results. Heartstrings will be tugged and ribs tickled, particularly thanks to Cedric the Entertainer, who reprises his brilliant scene-stealing and button-pushing political incorrectness, shining with special brightness in a showdown with Queen Latifah as Calvin's new beauty-salon neighbor. In a set piece, the two face each other down at a barbecue, trading escalating insults so uproarious that much of the dialogue was drowned out by audience laughter.

One new touch in the sequel is the addition of flashback footage showing Eddie's arrival at the shop and revealing his instrumental role in saving it from destruction during the 1968 riots in response to King's assassination.

That's what makes both entries in the "Barbershop" franchise such rare treats. Sure, there's a lot of what Eddie calls "real conversation" in these movies, much of it empty -- if very funny -- blather. In fact, it is precisely Calvin's gift for gab that the developers want to exploit in their effort to make him talk his neighbors into selling. What separates Calvin and Eddie from the typical comic hero -- and each "Barbershop" movie from the standard yuk-fest -- is that these folks know how to back up all the hot air with meaningful action.

BARBERSHOP 2: BACK IN BUSINESS (PG-13, 98 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, some roughhousing, and a lot of humorous trash-talk. Area theaters.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company