barbershop (2002)


director: tim story

ice cube, cedric the entertainer, eve, sean patrick thomas

Comedies are the great exceptions to the rules of moviemaking. A well-constructed plot - important in a drama, utterly essential to a thriller - is superfluous, since dialogue and characterization carry everything along. Tim Story, the director of Barbershop, thankfully understood this, and his film is a nicely shaggy, shambling stroll through a story about criminals, cops, a barbershop, and the owner who almost walks away from his heritage.

Calvin (Ice Cube) is the owner of a forty-year-old south side Chicago barbershop inherited from his father, but he has big dreams, and thinks the shop is holding him back. With unpaid back taxes threatening a foreclosure, he sells the shop to a local loan shark, who intends to turn it into a strip club. As the day progresses, he begins to realize that he's just torn the heart out of his community, and tries to get his shop back.

There's a subplot about a stolen ATM machine, which is basically en excuse for the film's comic relief, two inept thieves (comedian Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate) to take pratfalls, beat each other senseless, and indulge in baroque trades of insults. Back at Calvin's shop, the cast of customers and barbers includes Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), an old-timer who spends most of his day provoking everyone in sight, a college grad with a superiority complex (Sean Patrick Thomas from Save The Last Dance), a young white barber with a homeboy complex (Troy Garity), an ex-con trying to stay straight (Michael Ealy, an impressive newcomer), and rapper Eve as a hard young woman stuck on a cheating boyfriend.

Calvin's quest to buy back his shop and the stolen ATM eventually meet up, but that's the least interesting part of the movie. What counts is the hilarious, often profane back-and-forth in the shop, and the characterizations drawn over the course of two hours of nicely written, neatly-acted scenes. Barbershop's ghetto comedy is of the "Why can't we all get along?" variety, but it manages to dodge too many sticky scenes, mostly by cutting to Cedric's off-the-wall monologues, and politically pregnant rants about slavery reparations, Rosa Parks, ghetto realness, and the meaning of blackness.

It goes without saying that these scenes aren't begging for the approval of white audiences, and they happily don't try to resolve into a neat, humanistic consistency of message. As comedy, though, they're great, throwing bright shards of ideas around the screen without much regard for delicate sensibilities. They're the only real reason to see Barbershop, and they'll be all you'll remember after the credits have rolled.