Movie Review: Barbershop
By Michael Wilmington,
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Great ensemble movies like "M*A*S*H," "Nashville" or "Do the Right Thing" can take us effortlessly inside a special community, steep us in atmosphere and character, even make us believe they're real.
"Barbershop" isn't on that level; it has a measure of corn and cliche. But this sassy comedy-drama, starring Ice Cube as the owner of a failing barbershop with a lovably eccentric staff and clientele, has a lot to like. It's a sharp, densely populated film with a vividly realized setting: a longtime South Side Chicago barbershop that's about to be taken over by the local loan shark and whose owner (Cube) tries belatedly to save it.
"Barbershop" is an entertaining, surprisingly well-written and often rowdily amusing picture. It is predictable in many ways but also full of heart, humor and personality. And though Cube, as barber and shop owner Calvin Palmer, is the star, he doesn't dominate the show. There's a bevy of good actors and even one great comic performance by Cedric the Entertainer as a shockingly iconoclastic old barber named Eddie, a contrarian who keeps delightedly stirring everybody up.
The movie is set during one cold day and night in a Windy City winter. Snow is lightly heaped on the sidewalks outside, you can almost feel the frost in the air, and the shop seems a haven for its fast-talking cutters and clients. There's warmth in their routines, a bite to their collegiality. They act like people who've interacted and quarreled for years.
An argumentative but congenial bunch, they spend the day barbering, bickering, ragging and joking with each other, and as the day stretches on, the shop, started decades ago by Calvin's dad, appears more and more valuable. But unbeknownst to all except Calvin, the shop has been sold that morning to cold-blooded entrepreneur Lester (played by expert character actor Keith David), a sadistic, bejeweled, derby-hatted dandy who plans to turn it into a strip club and fire all the employees.
Calvin doesn't really want to sell; he has simply lost too much money on get-rich-quick schemes. By contrast, there are always customers at the shop (including a highly visible but quiet Norm Van Lier), but Calvin takes them and his employees for granted.
As you watch them - and watch Calvin try to negotiate what he believes will be his shop's last day - there's mounting tension, an increasing sense that the whole community around them will lose when the shop is gone. The filmmakers aren't very original, but they've come up with unusually good dialogue, much of which sounds improvised by the nimble, talented cast. They're all good: Calvin's fellow cutters include edgy ex-con Ricky Nash (Michael Ealy), fiery Terri Jones (rapper Eve), overly smug college brain Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas), tenderhearted immigrant Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) and feisty soul-brother wannabe Isaac Rosenberg (Troy Garity).
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Chicago, two amazingly inept thieves, rotund J.D. (Anthony Anderson) and skinny Billy (Lahmard Tate), wander the streets, trying to hide or crack open an ATM machine they stole the night before from the grocery across the street from Calvin's. They keep trying to stash the bulky machine everywhere, from family houses to crowded street corners - an increasingly dead-end predicament that contrasts with the camaraderie of the barbers and, finally, supplies the film's unlikely but satisfying resolution.
George Tillman Jr., the writer-director of "Soul Food," is one of this film's three producers, and this movie has a humanity and zest that recalls the best scenes of "Soul Food." But the mood is different; director Tim Story juices up the story, giving the day a seamless flow and a raunchy high-spirited feel, especially during Cedric the Entertainer's movie-stealing performance as Eddie.
White hair swirling around his head, voice scratchy and phlegmy, Eddie is a hip, defiant curmudgeon, as insulting as Don Rickles on a tear. He brings down the house with the different-drummer tirade where he demands that black people stop lying to themselves and admit that "Rodney King deserved a whupping and O.J. did it." The sheer shock value of Eddie's wisecracks opens up the movie and drains it of sentimentality. Like the late Robin Harris playing acid-tongued Sweet Dick Willie in "Do the Right Thing," Cedric ignites this movie and snazzes up its world.
But Cedric isn't the only good thing in "Barbershop." You could justly criticize this movie by calling it "Do the Right Thing Lite," but it does share some good things with Spike Lee's 1989 Brooklyn neighborhood classic: It has a real affection for its gusty little community and a deep, snappy cast to bring it all to life.
Last day or not, "Barbershop" gives us a good cut, lots of jokes and something to remember.
Directed by Tim Story; written by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, Marshall Todd; photographed by Tom Priestly; edited by John Carter; production designed by Roger Fortune; music by Terence Blanchard; produced by Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr., Mark Brown. An MGM release; opens Friday, Sept. 13. Running time: 1:42. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, sexual content and one brief drug reference).
Calvin Palmer - Ice Cube
JD - Anthony Anderson
Eddie - Cedric the Entertainer
Jimmy James - Sean Patrick Thomas
Terri Jones - Eve
Lester - Keith David
Isaac Rosenberg - Troy Garity
Ricky Nash - Michael Ealy