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We've all seen COMING TO AMERICA, right? I'm sure you've thought about how funny all the scenes in the Barbershop from that film were and wondered what it would be like if they were spun off into a movie of their own. Well, I wonder if Mark Brown, who wrote the story for this film, also did the same. After all, it shares a lot of elements with the scenes in question. And believe me, that's not a bad thing.
I missed seeing this film theatrically, which seems odd considering that it came out during the tail end of the past summer when I was spending far too many evenings at the Starlight Drive-In, where this film seemed to be ubiquitous. Then again, I also failed to see ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, another film featuring Ice Cube, even though it seemed to be the double feature to almost everything I saw last summer. In fact, my friends and I had so little desire to see that movie that we actually turned our seats around and tuned in to a different station so that we could watch the uber-crappy MEN IN BLACK II, which no doubt was worse than BENJAMINS could have dared to be. The reason I rented it was because, well, aside from hearing it was funny from various sources, I mentioned something about it in this article because I was under the impression that there was a sequel for it slated this year, but it looks as if that sequel is now due for a 2004 release. Oh well.
BARBERSHOP, in itself, is a damn funny movie. Those who told me so were redeemed when I finally got a chance to see it, so they can sleep easy at night. Ice Cube, who has had a string of flops since the original FRIDAY, is back in top form here as the proprietor of the title establishment. Along with an ensemble cast including Keith David, Eve, and show-stealer Cedric the Entertainer, the humor comes at you in rapid-fire succession. But rather than just resting on its laurels as a joke machine, this movie has to go off and have a heart too. And not just the generic hokey story that you'd expect, but a real heartwarmer that is helped out by the terrific cast and script.
Ice Cube's Calvin inherited his business from his father, who inherited it from his father. While the shop is a staple in the community that attracts a fairly steady clientel, Calvin just isn't making ends meet when it comes to keeping it up and running. Behind the backs of his staff and his wife, Calvin decides to sell the place to loan shark Lester Wallace, who informs Calvin of his plans to turn the clip joint into a strip joint. After the transaction is made, Calvin gets cold feet, and decides he wants to buy the shop back, but Lester isn't gonna let that happen unless Calvin doubles his selling price. But after listening to the advice and sentiments of the ones closest to him, he is determined to make sure that the shop does not get turned in to a house of ill repute.
Like the extremely funny original FRIDAY film, The story takes place over the course of one day. The things that push Calvin to his regret often lead to funny situations, but still help lend the heart of the story. The Korean storeowner across the way who has been robbed of an ATM machine gives Calvin a freebie in a token of consideration, and in a funny moment, Calvin tries to see what else he can squeak out of the deal. Calvin's encounter with Lester where he attempts to return to the money leads to a funny and ironic chase scene where Lester's bouncer runs down Calvin to try and give him back the money. And of course, there's the spirit of camaraderie and just plain funny moments that occur within the shop itself.
The barbers themselves are a very eclectic bunch who all seem to have their pride in common. There's Jimmy, who thinks of himself as a psuedo-intellectual and pushes his college rap on everyone; Terri, a foul-mouthed sparkplug with an untrustable boyfriend; Ricky, who is trying to beat the heat of some previous trouble with the law; Isaac, a white boy who feels he's more black than Jimmy; Dinka, a husky West African who has quite the jones for miss Terri; and of course, Eddie, the elder statesmen of the group, who uses every opportunity he can to speak his mind on the state of the world. Eddie's rants on Rosa Parks, Rodney King, and Jesse Jackson are worth the price of admission, or, like me, the rental. Oh yeah, and they're the source of a lot of flak that this movie received upon its release. Of course, like usual, the controversy only helped business, and this movie posted some pretty nice earnings as a result.
Along with the main storyline, there's a subplot involving two young men who have stolen an ATM and are desperately trying to crack it open to retrieve the money they hope it holds. It's only related to the main story in that they borrowed Ricky's truck to do so, and comes full circle at the end, but you may start to wonder what the purpose of the subplot is after a while. Whatever it is, it's good for some slapstick-style laughs, including a gag with a burning hotel room, perils on a staircase, and a close call with a police officer.
Another plus of of BARBERSHOP, however, is the fact that the movie attempts to break down the walls that have been thrown up by "black cinema" in the last few years. Rather than justifying and glamourizing the thug life, it's played to a minimum here. The characters are realer than what you might come to expect. Sure, they're chartacatures overall, but they're characatures you might find yourself meeting and interacting with.
But still, the real charm of the movie comes from the seemingly endless conversation and situations that occur within the shop itself. I'd easily settle for another day's worth of banter from the barbers and their patrons if it were half as amusing as what we see in the film itself.
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