Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 12, 2002
All the Trimmings

Despite its flaws, there’s life in this Barbershop.


The idea of the barbershop as a community center is hardly specific to African-Americans. Norman Rockwell and many others have paid tribute to the local barbershop as a pillar of white small-town America, a place to gather, converse, hear the latest news, or watch the world go by. Barbershop, however, is a film that’s particularly about what such a place of business often means to the African-American urban community, and it addresses that much better than it accomplishes anything else.

The film’s action takes place on a single day in a barbershop on the south side of Chicago. It’s called Calvin’s after the man who established the place in the 1950s, and now it’s run by his son Calvin (Ice Cube), who has added a small, cautious “Jr.” to the name in the shop window. He’s lost his enthusiasm for the place, though. He’s fed up with the crime in the neighborhood and dreams of owning a nightclub. The shop is mired in debt anyway, so he sells it to a local loan shark (Keith David) for $20,000. Soon afterward, he comes to see what the shop means to the various people who work and hang out there, and he tries to buy it back.

The film is meandering and unfocused, which would be great if this were by design, but it feels more like sloppiness on the filmmakers’ part. A bulky subplot involving two bumbling criminals (Anthony Anderson and Lahmard J. Tate) and a stolen ATM is pointless for the first half of the film and then glaringly obvious during the second half. Director Tim Story resorts to filming his actors in extreme close-up during the more serious scenes as a way to generate dramatic tension, and all he does is annoy you.

Calvin’s various employees are a bunch of stock characters — a stuck-up college kid (Sean Patrick Thomas), a two-time convicted felon trying to go straight (Michael Ealy), a poetry-reading West African (Leonard Howze) in a dashiki, a hot-tempered woman with boyfriend problems (rap star Eve), and a white guy who dresses and speaks hip-hop (Troy Garity). The supporting players can’t transcend their roles, and Cube is a dour presence at the center of the film. David indulges yet another opportunity to overact, and Cedric the Entertainer, in a graying Afro, is miscast as the barbershop’s wise old soul — he’s a funny guy, but he’s not nearly actor enough to pull this one off.

He’s much better when he plays the gadfly, stirring the place with controversial opinions. (“We need to stop lyin’ to ourselves about some things. First of all, O.J. did it. Second, Rodney King shoulda got his ass beat for bein’ drunk and drivin’ a Hyundai.”) The film’s saving grace is the way it captures the shop’s vibe: the banter, the hustler who comes in several times a day trying to sell things, the events in the street outside that occasionally grab everyone’s attention, and the sign that forbids employees from playing hip-hop before 10 a.m. This barbershop pulsates with life, and with people of all different temperaments and generations hanging out there, it’s an inviting place.

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