This second “Barbershop” earns a visit, if only by a hair. The sequel to the 2002 hit lacks the boisterous punch of its predecessor, being a more subdued and serious take on the formula, but it squeaks by on its ensemble energy, good-natured neighborly feel, and surprising degree of warmth. If the business isn’t quite so brisk this time around, there’s an amiable familiarity to the proceedings that warrants your continued patronage.
The plot concocted solo by Don D. Scott, who was one of the three writers on the original, centers on the threat to the family snip joint that Calvin (Ice Cube) owns on Chicago’s south side from a glitzy franchise operation called Nappy Cutz that an arrogant entrepreneur (Harry Lennix) is putting up directly across the street. The construction is just part of a wider gentrification project that threatens the character of the area as a whole. It’s a scheme that’s secretly being promoted by a slick but untrustworthy alderman (Robert Wisdom) in whose office uptight yuppie Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas), one of the barbers at Calvin’s in the first installment, now works.
The interrelationships at Calvin’s have changed a bit in other ways, too. Isaac (Troy Garity), the white guy who had trouble proving himself the last time around, is now a cutting superstar, often at odds with streetwise Ricky (Michael Ealy), who has a combustible love-and-hate connection with femme barber Terri (Eve). Leonard Earl Howze returns as Dinka, the optimistic immigrant who’s one of the shop’s permanent fixtures (with eyes for Eve), as does DeRay Davis as the local guy with lots of hot merchandise to sell. To replace the slapstick stuff that Garity provided to some extent before, but was especially attended to by the comic ATM-stealing duo of Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate (both absent here), we have Kenan Thompson, half of the old Nickelodeon Kenen and Kel team, as Calvin’s self-promoting but inept cousin, who’s just graduated from an obviously non-accredited barber school. All of these performers do nice work.
But the soul of “Barbershop 2” again belongs to Ice Cube, who once more brings a pleasant calmness and easygoing charm to Calvin, and Cedric the Entertainer, who steals scene after scene as the big-haired, oversized loudmouth Eddie. Unfortunately, Eddie has been defanged too much this time around. His hilarious rants in the initial picture, which were so politically sensitive that they raised the ire of some African-American leaders, are replaced here by much milder riffs on easier targets–mostly entertainment figures–and the result doesn’t have the same riotous effect. To provide him with a platform for a major outburst against a worthy opponent, Scott and director Kevin Rodney Sullivan–who stages the picture ably, though without the last ounce of effervescence–insert a barbecue scene in which Eddie faces off against the formidable Queen Latifah, as the owner of a nearby beauty parlor (there will soon be a spin-off movie in which she stars). But the insults the two trade don’t generate guffaws as big or prolonged as one would wish; it’s a funny sequence, but not the equal of Cedric’s uproarious Jesse Jackson-Martin Luther King diatribe in the first picture. And while it’s an intriguing idea to insert some important scenes from the character’s earlier days in flashback–especially ones showing how Eddie got attached to the shop then owned by Calvin’s father–most of those episodes prove much more serious than hilarious.
The upshot is that “Barbershop 2” is even more a heartwarming paean to the idea of neighborhood and tradition and less a farcical ensemble piece than the original film was. And if you go into it expecting the same mix you got the first time around, you might be mildly disappointed. But this installment in what will probably be a continuing franchise (not always a dirty word) is still reasonably enjoyable. It certainly looks good, with the establishing Chicago shots providing a fine background for the neighborhood setting and the interiors expertly fashioned; Tom Priestley’s cinematography is excellent, and even the score (mostly by Richard Gibbs) is supportive instead of intrusive. So while the laughs might not come as fast or last as long as one might like, and the uplifting Capraesque ending doesn’t quite come off–the expected turnaround seems abrupt and arbitrary–this is one clip shop that still deserves a return trip.