Barbershop 2: Back in Business

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
106 min. MGM. Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan. Cast: Ice Cube, Cedric The Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve Jeffers, Troy Garity.

With Barbershop 2: Back in Business, executive producer and star Ice Cube isn't particularly interested in reinventing the wheel. The sequel to the 2002 hit brings back Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, and Leonard Earl Howze, while particularly maximizing the first film's breakout character: Cedric the Entertainer's senior citizen barber Eddie. Sequels are business propositions, of course, and Barbershop 2 adds Queen Latifah as Gina, proprietress of the next door beauty shop soon to be seen in the MGM movie Beauty Shop. Barbershop 2: Back in Business takes a bigger budget and subtly refines the first film; essentially, it might as well be a remake, playing the same emotional beats and tapping the same sense of humor.

Like a TV show, the Barbershop franchise seems poised to run in lucrative circles: in each "episode," circumstances must appear dramatically to change before settling back into lovable routine. This time out, a corrupt businessman (Harry Lennix) conspires with a corrupt alderman (Robert Wisdom, slinging Sharpton-esque malaprops) to exploit Cube's Calvin by driving him and his neighbors out of business. By doing so, the bad guys can make way for a politically expedient redevelopment of Calvin's South-side Chicago neighborhood. To get the ball rolling, Lennix's smug entrepeneur opens a franchised, nouveau hair salon named Nappy Cutz across the street from Calvin's traditional neighborhood barbershop/manly hangout.

Nervously, Calvin takes steps to save his clientele: hosting a free barbecue, hopelessly instituting new rules ("No more loud talking."), and even allowing a clumsy attempt at industrial espionage. As in Barbershop, the sequel explores the moral quandaries of the small business owner: where to draw the line in political relationships, what constitutes selling out as opposed to smart business, and how to honor heritage while adapting to changing times. In all things, Calvin continues to live and work in the shadow of his deceased father, the shop's original owner.

In the absence of Calvin Sr., Eddie plays the elder statesman. As we discover in a clever series of 60s flashbacks letting Cedric the Entertainer act his age, Eddie owes his years of good fortune to Calvin Sr. In the film's energetic opening, the young Eddie—on the run from the po-lice--body-checks Uncle Sam before discovering his home for life in the barbershop. There, 35 years later, Eddie still runs at the mouth, spewing timely, intentionally provocative statements ("The D.C. sniper is like the Jackie Robinson of crime!"), and huffing and puffing boastful best-defense-is-offense attacks on the shop's staff and clientele. With his grey-streaked, puffy 'fro; slow, roly-poly gait; and foghorn voice, Cedric cuts a distinctive and funny figure. Only the formidable Queen Latifah, poised for spin-off dollars, can fairly face off with Cedric in a verbal sparring match.

Kevin Rodney Sullivan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) manages flashes of stylish direction despite the pervasive small-screen tone, and veteran editor Paul Seydor does his part to keep the story and the humor properly swift. The likeable cast toils admirably, with high marks to Garity (the token white barber now working Tom Cruise's moves from Cocktail) and spicy suitors Eve and Ealy. Let's face it: Barbershop's pleasures are plotless, so as long as the jokes can outnumber the so-called twists, I don't mind kicking back and sitting a spell in the ol' shop.

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