A rousing celebration of the family-run small business, this Ice Cube-topped ensemble comedy, without offering anything especially new or exciting, provides a springboard for high-voltage comic exchanges that double as wisecrack-coated lessons in community relations. A cross between “Car Wash” and “Do the Right Thing,” pic touts titular barbershop as the “cornerstone of the neighborhood” and uses the workplace-as-extended-family sitcom setup to create a microcosm that’s also a stage for its talented cast’s featured riffs. Closing nighter at NYC’s HBO-sponsored Urbanworld fest and skedded by MGM to open wide Sept. 13, pic’s broadband humor and good-natured raunchiness should appeal to black auds across the age spectrum, with crossover limited to the young.
Producers Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food”) and video and indie feature director Tim Story zero in on a Chicago tonsorial parlor, giving this repository of neighborhood lore the symbolic weight that a similar establishment once held for Spike Lee in his early short “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.” As the last platform for free speech, the hangout hosts impromptu forums on anything from reparation to the difference between a woman with a big ass and a big-ass woman.
Pic unfolds during a 24-hour period in which Calvin (Ice Cube) will decide whether or not to sell the community landmark to a loan shark who wants to turn it into a strip joint, thereby throwing the barbershop’s improbably large family of haircutters into the street. Cube, as a man whose get-rich-quick entrepreneurial brainstorms (from Herbalife franchises to do-it-yourself basement recording studios) have hitherto blinded him to the true worth of the perfectly viable business he owns, brings warmth, authority and just the right dash of delusional stupidity to his role.
Meanwhile, the sinister smiling bloodsucker Lester is portrayed by the ever-inventive Keith David, decked out in a powder-blue derby and suit, his burly backup minions seeming just a ring-laden finger snap away as he swaggers along past lesser mortals. David steals every scene he’s in with the pizzazz of a mustachioed cape-swirling villain come to foreclose on the mortgage.
The barbershop employs an assortment of antic misfits from pretentious latte-drinking college student Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) to resident muse and opinionated bastion of old-time values Eddie (veteran standup comedian Cedric the Entertainer). A young ex-con, Ricky (Michael Ealy), fervidly defends the work ethic, while Isaac (Troy Garity), a white homey, can’t find a customer willing to sit in his chair. Grammy-winning rapper Eve makes her acting debut as Terri, sole distaff clipper who is fighting to kick her addiction to a two-timing boyfriend.
Despite its inability to pass up a single occasion for loving close-ups of female butt, pic nevertheless manages to mix up the humor nicely, avoiding sophomoric scatological gags altogether. Pic’s framing device, a bungled robbery of a hefty ATM machine that a couple of Mutt ‘n’ Jeff characters (Anthony Anderson,Lahmard Tate) cart around, builds well in an escalating series of disasters reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy’s travails with a piano in the classic short “The Music Box.”
Helmer Story manages to juggle his ensemble cast with enough style and finesse to keep pic moving briskly for all of its 102-minute running time. Lensing by Tom Priestly is surprisingly unclaustrophobic, and tech credits are pro all the way, particularly the magnificently modulated score by the always standout Terence Blanchard.