[Screen It]

(2002) (Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After discovering that his inherited barbershop is a pivotal element in the community, a man rethinks his decision to sell it.
Calvin Palmer (ICE CUBE) is a Chicagoan and frustrated entrepreneur who isn't happy with the longstanding barbershop he inherited from his father. After two years of trying to make the place financially stable, he's decided to sell it to local loan shark Lester Wallace (KEITH DAVID), but has kept that secret from his pregnant wife, Jennifer (JAZSMIN LEWIS), who's grown tired of his various get rich business schemes.

He also hasn't told his various employees. There's Eddie (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER), the older and highly opinionated veteran barber, and Terri Jones (EVE), the lone female in the shop who's upset that her boyfriend, Kevin (JASON GEORGE), cheated on her. She's the object of attraction for Dinka (LEONARD EARL HOWZE), a soft-spoken African immigrant.

Jimmy James (SEAN PATRICK THOMAS) is an elitist college student who looks down on Isaac Rosenberg (TROY GARITY), the lone white barber who looks and acts as if he's trying to be black, as well as Ricky Nash (MICHAEL EALY), a two-time felon who's trying to stay straight.

He's under the eye of Detective Williams (TOM WRIGHT) who's investigating the theft of an ATM machine from an adjacent convenience store. Little does he know that it was really stolen by bumbling thieves JD (ANTHONY ANDERSON) and Billy (LAHMARD TATE) who keep moving the machine across the city while trying to crack it open.

When Calvin realizes that it's a focal point of the community and learns that Lester plans on converting the shop into a gentleman's club, he races against time to figure out how to buy it back before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Unless one is bald or going for the Vin Diesel/Telly Savalas look, most everyone needs to have their hair cut, and will usually go to a professional of some sort to have that done. In the old days, that meant either visiting a beauty salon if you were a woman and a barbershop if you were a man.

Although I haven't been to one in probably 20 years, I was once a regular at the local barbershop when my mom wasn't trying her hand at completing the task. It was an interesting place filled with the smell of talcum powder, cleaning solution and men's aftershave, and the feel of cut hair and a ribbed metal footrest under one's feet, and vinyl beneath one's rear.

Then there was the older barber that no one wanted to use and lots of general chitchat about most any topic. The beauty of the place was that unlike a visit to the doctor that usually revolved around being sick, or the dentist and it's essentially one-way conversation, one could easily converse in a laid-back environment.

I'm not sure if the old place and its requisite spinning barber pole is still there, what with the barbers probably having long since retired and with their business siphoned away by those chain hair cut stores. If it is, however, I can only hope and imagine that it's still the way I remember it.

That's part of what writers Mark Brown ("Two Can Play That Game," "How To Be a Player"), Don D. Scott (making his debut) and Marshall Todd (also making his debut) along with director Tim Story (making his feature film debut) try to capture in their appropriately tilted comedy, "Barbershop." Set in a predominantly black establishment in downtown Chicago, the film gets that old barbershop feel down pat - albeit with some more modern touches and customers - but doesn't result in a "do" that's as good as I was hoping for.

Although it ultimately turns out to have more sweetness than comic bite, the film features contrived, forced and far too obvious material in both its comedic and dramatically poignant moments. It's also all attitude with little or no finesse, something the film's target audience will probably expect and enjoy. Yet, that doesn't necessarily translate into meaning it's good.

Plot and character exposition and foreshadowing are delivered in the equivalent of huge, flashing neon signs telling us what we need to know. Then again, not much about the film could be called remotely subtle. Trying to be something of a comedic equivalent to Spike Lee's far superior "Do the Right Thing," part of the film brings up all sorts of ethnic hot button issues over which various characters argue and debate.

The result is material that's occasionally funny - to varying degrees - but that feels far more forced into the production compared to Lee's film where it not only felt congruous with the rest of the material, but also obviously stemmed quite naturally from it.

Another part of the film deals with the owner of the barbershop - played by Ice Cube ("All About the Benjamins," "Ghosts of Mars") - in probably his most subdued role yet - regretting his decision to sell the place in hopes of greener pastures. While all of that offers a mixture of comedy and drama, little of it hits the right notes to be as effective as presumably intended.

Both of those parts, however, are far superior to the lame, forced and not particularly funny subplot featuring Anthony Anderson ("Two Can Play That Game," "Kingdom Come") and Lahmard Tate ("Breakfast of Champions," "Jason's Lyric") as two bumbling criminals who steal an ATM machine, transport it around the city and repeatedly try to pry it open for the cash. Not only is the running gag far more annoying than funny, but the filmmakers also let the cat out of the bag - that the machine had yet to be filled with money - and thus ruin a potential late-in-the-game comedic payoff.

The film also suffers from having too many characters. While the number is obviously designed to allow for more points of view and friction in the debates, most of the characters get the short shrift when it comes to screen time and being anything more than a token or one-note creation.

Cube gets the lead role and plays the straight man to the comedy as that regretful owner. While okay in the part, he brings nothing special, remarkable or memorable to the role simply because the material -- and especially the dialogue -- is rather weak, convenient and predictable.

Cedric The Entertainer ("Serving Sara," "Ice Age") appears as the opinionated old-timer in the shop whose comments constantly stir up things. Yet, beyond delivering an example of Ebonics, the comedian turned actor isn't very convincing.

More successful - although that's relative - are rapper-turned actress Eve (making her debut) as the lone female barber who's peeved about various things; Michael Ealy ("Bad Company," "Kissing Jessica Stein") as a twice-convicted felon who's trying to stay out of trouble; and Sean Patrick Thomas ("Halloween: Resurrection," "Save the Last Dance") and Troy Garity ("Bandits," "Steal This Movie") as two culturally clashing barbers.

Leonard Earl Howze (making his debut) shows up a gentle African immigrant who's all stereotype, Keith David ("Novociane," "The Replacements") plays the obligatory villain and Jazsmin Lewis ("Fraternity Boys," "How To Be a Player") can't do much as the pregnant and perturbed wife.

With a nod to older urban films such as "Car Wash," the picture might fly with less discerning viewers looking for some lightweight and occasionally goofy entertainment. Most of the efforts, however, just didn't cut it for me. "Barbershop" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 27, 2002 / Posted September 13, 2002

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