***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve
screenplay by Don D. Scott
directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan
by Walter Chaw If not for a cringe-worthy conclusion and the awkwardness of an entire Queen Latifah subplot too clearly an embedded trailer for the upcoming Beauty Shop, Barbershop 2: Back in Business would not only be better than the first film, but also almost worthy of consideration as a lighthearted version of Do the Right Thing. Firmly rooted in politics, the opening credit sequence--which charts black history through the evolution of the afro haircut, with each image group ending, incisively, with a shot that demonstrates how white culture invariably hijacks black trends--is alone worth the price of admission. It summarizes a sticky, Ouroborosian circle of self-consumption, owing to the fact that hip-hop culture itself takes elements of white culture and redefines them through its own prism. What's the explanation for Vanilla Ice's ski-slope pompadour in the bigger picture of race relations and cultural diffusion? A look at the progression of Michael Jackson would seem the cheap shot, and it would have been out of this context, but while no mention of Wacko Jacko fails to inspire reflexive groans anymore, Barbershop 2 actually, wordlessly, scores a poignant, precise, eloquent point about the state of our state. Taking a swipe at the King of Pop is easy--having it score in a way fresh with insight is invaluable.
Along with the unfairly underestimated Marci X, Barbershop 2 locates its humour in intelligent, self-deprecating topicality, anchored by an earthy straight performance by Ice Cube as barbershop-owing Calvin. Cedric the Entertainer returns as truth-teller Eddie, his role expanded by a series of flashbacks to the incendiary days of 1968 and a riot that erupts the night of Martin Luther King's assassination. A glimpse of Bobby Kennedy's speech that day (reminding that he's also lost a family member to a white man with a gun) lands with unusual weight, particularly in what is essentially a dialogue-driven situation comedy where the situation is mainly guys sitting around.
Best when it restrains itself to its titular location, Barbershop 2, like its predecessor, loses momentum whenever it branches off into individual storylines. Latifah's distaff mirror is anchorless and perfunctory, Eddie's late-Sixties love story the same (not so, tellingly, for the flashbacks located in the shop), and a scene in which Calvin pontificates on the importance of community before a panel of corrupt aldermen reminds of the worst instincts of a Tom Shadyac. In general, it's a good rule of thumb that films that aren't otherwise about the law that climax with a courtroom scene are either desperate for resolution, awful, or both. Even when it falters, however, Barbershop 2 is sharp and hilarious, balancing its unabashed politicism with well-metered sprinkles of imaginative profanity--proving in the process that comedies that rely more on well-observed satire than pratfalls and scatology are still being made. Originally published: February 6, 2004.
by Bill Chambers MGM's Special Edition DVD of Barbershop 2: Back in Business presents the film in an almost irreproachable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, some minor tiling on solid backgrounds all that's costing the image an A+ rating. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is better-than-average for a comedy, though surprisingly for a hip hop-laced soundtrack, bass-driven effects such as fireworks, passing subway cars, and even the occasional Molotov cocktail are the focus of the LFE channel's attention. Supplementing the feature are two commentaries, the first session--video footage of which occasionally pops up in a window in the bottom centre of the screen (consequently, the ability to toggle between subtitle tracks has been disabled)--grouping actors Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity, and Jaszmin Lewis, the second teaming director Kevin Rodney Sullivan with producers Bob Teitel and George Tillman, Jr.. The former yakker is vacuous but not annoying (although the constant fading in and out of the PIP inset grows wearisome), while the latter's thoroughness is only as valuable as one's interest in the perilously fast-tracked production. An early admission that the film's structure was inspired by that of The Godfather, Part II may provoke derisive laughter, yet the comparison is savvy and humbly drawn, with parallels between Calvin's testimony before city council and Michael Corleone's before the senate (to say nothing of Isaac's similarities to Fredo) passing demurely unobserved by the trio.
Six deleted scenes are offered with or without cast introductions (virtually every above-the-line player squeezes an extraneous two cents in) and director commentary; of note is a patronizing moment where a Japanese couple shows up at the titular establishment (with which Sullivan, to his credit, expresses discomfort), as well as a nice bookend to the Tai Chi thread--cut solely for time--that further humanizes Eve's character. If a 6-minute reel of outtakes gets old fast, the music videos for Mary J. Blige's "Not Today" (an extended version running 7 minutes) and Sleepy Brown's "I Can't Wait" are just plain weird--I couldn't follow the narrative of either. In "Not Today," Barbershop 2's Cedric the Entertainer (sans Elsa Lanchester 'fro) and Garity ("Isaac") appear in a framing device that seems to concern voyeurism, while Brown "stars" in "I Can't Wait" as Mr. No Good and is apparently determined to live up to the name. (He hits on an attractive woman who's wearing a T-shirt that brands her "Tasty.") Behind-the-scenes photos taken on set and of the cast, trailers for Barbershop 2: Back in the Business, the original Barbershop, Bulletproof Monk, Dark Blue, and Out of Time, and forced trailers for Beauty Shop, Agent Cody Banks 2, Walking Tall, and Soul Plane round out the disc. Sporting 32 chapter stops, the film itself is very generously indexed, for whatever that's worth. Originally published: June 3, 2004.