[Screen It]

(2004) (Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer) (PG-13)

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Comedy: The owner and workers of an old-fashioned barbershop must contend with their differences as well as corporate competition that's opening across the street.
Now that he outright owns the Chicago barbershop opened by his father in 1958, Calvin Palmer (ICE CUBE) is a relatively happy man. A new father, he's generally content, even if his workers occasionally get on his and each other's nerves. There's old-timer Eddie (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER) who likes to rile things up by openly speaking his highly opinionated mind, while the only white barber, Isaac (TROY GARITY), claims he's the best of the bunch.

African Dinka (LEONARD EARL HOWZE) still likes stylist Terri (EVE), and there seem to be more than antagonistic sparks between her and ex-con Ricky (MICHAEL EALY), although neither will admit it. Former barber Jimmy (SEAN PATRICK THOMAS), who works for verbose Alderman Brown (ROBERT WISDOM), is now a pushy client, while Calvin's cousin, Kenard (KENAN THOMPSON), has arrived fresh from barber school and automatically thinks he has a job. Even Calvin's ex-girlfriend, Gina (QUEEN LATIFAH), owns the beauty salon next door.

While Calvin can control them, he suddenly finds himself facing a new challenge. That comes in the form of businessman Quentin Leroux (HARRY LENNIX) who's decided to open a Nappy Cutz franchise directly across the street from Calvin's shop. Worried but undeterred, Calvin tries to spruce up his place and keep his loyal customers, all while dealing with the various issues and unexpected developments facing him.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Although they're structurally the same - in having characters who pursue goals through a story with a beginning, middle and end - TV sitcoms and movies are usually quite different. Beyond the temporal disparities, the scope of the latter is often far more vast with more locales, bigger budgets and more.

That said, some sitcoms turn into decent movies, such as those "Brady Bunch" spoofs, while some films manage to become terrific sitcoms, as was the case with "M*A*S*H." It's still too early to say what will become of the "Barbershop" films. Yet, they certainly seem like a perfect fit for the TV format.

Much like many a sitcom, there's a host of characters in a profession and location-specific setting that have to deal with each other as well as various situations that arise. In the "pilot" - i.e. 2002's "Barbershop" - we were introduced to the main characters, their stories and the "episode" dilemma that they had to resolve.

Like the second episode of any sitcom, the now familiar characters return, go through the familiar motions and must deal with a new predicament in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business."

While I wasn't the biggest fan of the first film, this one sports that sitcom familiarity that makes it somewhat comforting. That's not mean to imply, however, that the overall effort is good, although there are some enjoyable moments and fans of the first film will likely enjoy what's offered here.

That is, as long as they don't find that very familiarity of it all. The supporting characters pretty much go through the same or at least directly related routines, while the star - Ice Cube ("Torque," the "Friday" movies) - must deal with new developments that again threaten to undermine his business' existence.

Yes, there are some changes, such as Queen Latifah ("Bringing Down the House," "Chicago") and Kenan Thompson ("Love Don't Cost a Thing," "My Boss's Daughter") who replace Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate and their bumbling ATM antics. Nevertheless, it's disappointing but not surprising that writer Don D. Scott (who penned the first film) and director Kevin Rodney Sullivan ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back") didn't stretch the format or even really alter the plot that much.

For instance, Cube's character must now deal with business challenges presented by a developer and verbose alderman - played by Harry Lennix ("The Human Stain," the last two "Matrix" films) and Robert Wisdom ("Duplex," "Storytelling") respectively -- rather than a loan shark. It's slightly different in the minute details, but it's otherwise the same.

The one main difference is a series of flashbacks - featuring Cedric the Entertainer ("Intolerable Cruelty,'" "Serving Sara") - that are apparently designed to explain why his character is the way he is. Considering that he and particularly his outspoken comments were lightning rods of controversy among some viewers the first time around, I suppose that's somewhat wise. They don't really do much, however, in adding much else to the film.

The same holds true for Cube. While I realize he's relegated to playing the "straight man" to all of the other character shenanigans and more, he's once again extremely listless in the role. Queen Latifah is present really just in extended cameo role and apparently just to introduce her character that will appear in the upcoming "Beauty Shop" picture (which I imagine will be just about the same, but from a female perspective). Cedric the Entertainer gets some of the film's funnier moments, but they feel a bit more contrived and forced this time around.

The likes of Sean Patrick Thomas ("Save the Last Dance," "Cruel Intentions"), Eve ("XXX," "Barbershop"), Troy Garity ("Bandits," "Steal This Movie"), Michael Ealy ("2 Fast 2 Furious," "Bad Company") and Leonard Earl Howze ("Antwone Fisher," "Barbershop") are basically fine in their supporting roles, although the latter is shortchanged when it comes to screen time.

Since there's so little that's different from what the first film offered, there's not really that much more to say about it. Simply put, if you enjoyed the characters and storytelling style the first time around, it's quite likely that you'll feel the same way about this sequel. And if for some reason this or subsequent sequels fail on the big screen, there certainly seems to be room on the small one for it in the sitcom format. "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 3, 2004 / Posted February 6, 2004

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