Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual material and language
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Ice Cube, Common, Cedric the Entertainer, Lamorne Morris, Michael Rainey Jr., Nicki Minaj, Eve, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Diallo Thompson, Regina Hall, Margot Bingham, Deon Cole, J.B. Smoove, Jazsmine Lewis, Anthony Anderson, Tyga, Sean Patrick Thomas
Cameo: Anthony Davis, DeRay Davis
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Screenplay: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Review published April 18, 2016

A much-belated comedy sequel, coming about twelve years after the previous Barbershop entry (not counting the female-centric spin-off, Beauty Shop), Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Barbershop: The Next Cut picks up mostly where we left off, even if it's a decade later, with a barbershop/salon run by Calvin Palmer Jr. (Ice Cube, Ride Along 2) in Chicago's South Side, serving the community with the best in style and the choicest of conversation about a variety of topics, both political and banal.  No longer worried about the gentrification occurring in the prior chapter, the folks at the now-unisex shop still have major issues in Chicago to contend with, most notably in the escalating gun and gang violence running rampant in their neighborhood that has given the city the unenviable nickname of "Chi-Raq". 

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, cousin of Chi-Raq's director Spike and helmer of the Best Man series of films, The Next Cut is a wildly mixed bag, coming to life in fits and starts, mostly when the large ensemble are talking about interesting observations about politics, race and gender explorations, and image of the Black community, not only to society but also to themselves.  There are a few thinly developed plot threads that emerge that mostly bog down the fun, one involving Calvin's teenage son Jalen (Rainey Jr., Lee Daniel's The Butler), who is not only beginning to become rebellious, but is also being recruited to join a local gang.  As a result, protective papa Calvin wants to move his shop to Chicago's less dangerous North Side, although he doesn't have the gumption to give his coworkers a heads up before exploring locations.  Nevertheless, pulling up shop doesn't stop Calvin from trying to stop violence in the community by asking a couple of patrons who lead opposing gangs to call a 48-hour truce in a viral marketing campaign where they offer free beauty and hair styling to the community as a means to spotlight the need for coming together.

The overall vibe of the film is stiffer than prior entrees, with the normally fun, wisecracking banter between the motley personalities coming off as forced and wooden much of the time, instead of the free-flowing and more effortless chemistry we're accustomed to.  It's a film that uses archetypes who enjoy talking about stereotypes, with each member of the crew contributing one specific function and basically ceasing to exist if a scene doesn't require their specific use for a corny laugh line or sassy, soapbox-worthy sermons. At nearly two hours, it's vastly overlong, with far too much time given to side stories that have no relevancy to the anti-violence message, and with have little payoff.  One involves local scam artist J.D., played by a returning Anthony Anderson (Grudge Match), trying to fleece the community through a food truck business, claiming to raise funds for the Boys and Girls Club, but who intends to keep most of the money raised for himself.  It's neither amusing nor resonant. Another that could have used some serious trimming involves the marital issues between hunky barber Rashad (played by Ice Cube's former feud-mate in the rap game, Common, Run All Night) and his coworker wife Terri (Eve, The Cookout), which leaves an opening for Rashad admirer Draya (Minaj, The Other Woman) to make her move.  It's the kind of stuff you'd expect from one of Lee's Best Man films, but merely pad an already padded-out film beyond the capacity to hold.

The film seeks to tackle a host of social issues, and does offer up plenty of topical discussions, but doesn't really offer up any legitimate solutions to any of them, except perhaps to state that the neighborhood will always be full of problems, but let's do the best we can and not abandon our brothers and sisters in a time of crisis.  Still, you have to question the earnestness of a message of not uprooting for money and better opportunities elsewhere, and which is bookended by an Ice Cube voiceover pumping up the fact that's he'd never ditch his community, when, with the exception of a few aerial shots, it's filmed entirely in Atlanta.  Calvin's barbershop is also too boutique to be seen as the choice of the street, complete with snacks and condiments, with all of its employees looking like they're fresh from a posh makeover, and even the private storage area is abundantly spacious, brightly lit, and meticulously organized.

Barbershop: The Next Cut plays mostly like a highlight reel for a season of a television show than it does a full-length feature, and TV is probably where it would better be served.  Only there would there be the kind of character development needed for us to care about who loves whom and the dramatic turns that sometimes take place between these employees that seem to have significance to them that is never translated fully to us in the audience.  This is especially glaring when the film tries to take a big dramatic turn late in the film, and many in the audience are left wondering who the person is that suffered the tragedy and why this person is so important that a police officer would notify the barbershop employees of the event instead of the next of kin.  However, this isn't a TV series with rich story arcs, but a two-hour film, so there is much more need to be judicious in the amount of characters, plots and subplots you want to inject and still keep things buoyant.  In perhaps the most glaring of ironies for Barbershop: The Next Cut is that there are scissors and shavers in abundance, but the script itself could have used a serious trim.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo