About two years ago, I flipped for a little movie called Barbershop. So did a lot of other people, as it went on to become a real sleeper hit. Of course, there’s now a sequel called Barbershop 2: Back in Business. I had mixed feelings about the fact that a sequel was even made. On one hand, I concluded my review of the original by saying: “When the theater lights came up, I only knew that I wanted to go back to the shop tomorrow.” A sequel would certainly allow this idea to take life, in a way. On the other hand, I know that trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice is awfully hard. The first Barbershop seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Could the sequel do the same, given that it arrived with expectations?
I thought the easiest way to look at this movie was to excerpt quotes from my review of the original, then tell you how the sequel shapes up in comparison.
”This is a movie that celebrates the things that make America great. It endorses the entrepreneurial system. It glorifies the family-owned business - the neighborhood shop - that is increasingly being swallowed by corporate expansion.” Still true. In Barbershop 2, a group of land developers wants to buy up everything on the block where Calvin (Ice Cube) runs his shop so they can put up sleek new corporate-owned businesses. They’re offering a lot of money to get the owners of the various shops to sell. Strike one arrives when a giant conglomerate hair salon known as Nappy Cuts opens right across the street from Calvin’s shop, threatening to put it out of business. The movie plants us squarely on Calvin’s side, showing how small-business owners, who were traditionally the lifeblood of city neighborhoods, are being crowded out in favor of standardized, generic franchises. That idea is important to convey, and the sequel nicely handles Calvin’s uncertainty about whether to go for the big score or stand up for what’s right and risk going under financially.
”The plot in Barbershop is, in some ways, secondary to the setting. What makes this movie tick is the colorful interaction of the characters in that shop.”
In the case of the sequel, that’s not quite true. Although the movie’s heart is certainly in the right place, it gets bogged down by its own plot. Too much time is spent outside the barbershop, which is a crucial mistake. The joy of the original came in listening to the people (workers and customers alike) talk, debate, feud, and whatever else. There’s precious little of that in Barbershop 2. Instead, we get a lot of stuff with the crooked Alderman who basically tries to bribe Calvin, and the nasty developer who tries to threaten him. Those moments would be okay in small doses, but they take up most of the story.
“The film's ability to capture lively discussions and personal interactions makes it special.” Because the sequel is so plot-heavy, the majority of the supporting characters get little screen time and even less to do. The original created such memorable characters: the white guy (Troy Garity) who was steeped in black style and culture; the educated guy (Sean Patrick Thomas) who thought he was destined to do “bigger and better” things; the young woman (Eve) whose sassy exterior hid an inner pain, and the African poet (Leonard Earl Howze) who had a crush on her. These characters are all back for the sequel, but they don’t get the kind of interaction that made the original spring to life. Even Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), who was such a presence in the first film, is not as effective this time around, despite being made a more major character. There are several flashbacks showing him as a young man. Most of them don’t have much relevance to anything else, and therefore don’t work. Eddie was initially a bit of a provocateur, spouting his half-baked theories about Rosa Parks and OJ Simpson. Despite taking some jabs at the Beltway Sniper and R. Kelly, he comes across as blander this time. Again, allowing the character additional time to just be himself would have been an improvement. The best part of the original was the feeling that we were simply hanging around in that barbershop soaking up the personalities of the people there; the filmmakers have taken too much of that element out for the sequel.
Barbershop 2: Back in Business is not a bad sequel; it is an adequate but disappointing sequel. Because of my love of the original film, I have a soft spot for it in my heart. Perhaps that’s the problem. I wanted more of what I loved, not less. There are some laughs in the movie, some nice moments between the characters, and some occasional glimmers of the old magic. However, there are not enough of them.
Queen Latifah makes a “special appearance” in the film, playing the woman who runs the beauty shop adjacent to Calvin’s barbershop (he rents space to her). There are a couple hilariously funny scenes showing Latifah, her coworkers, and her customers gossiping and having frank discussions about which white man they would sleep with if forced to. These few scenes reminded me of what I liked best about Barbershop and what’s regrettably missing from Barbershop 2. Later this year, we’re going to get a spin-off movie called Beauty Shop which will pick up in Latifah’s place. I’m thinking that might really be the true heir to the Barbershop magic.
( 1/2 out of four)
Barbershop 2: Back in Business is rated PG-13 for language, sexual material and brief drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.