Barbershop: The Next Cut is something of a rare gem in the in world of movies. Set nine years after the events of its predecessor, Barbershop 2: Back In Business, the new film reunites the characters you love in the place you know by heart while delivering timely social commentary and non-stop comedy. The Next Cut does not meet the standards of its franchise, it raises them, and it leaves the door open for plenty more sequels in the years to come.
The Barbershop franchise is not one that relies on compelling narratives and CGI creations to win over audiences, but rather the power of good conversations among likable people. Calvin (Ice Cube) and the entire cast of the previous Barbershop are more or less where we left them nearly a decade ago, only now Calvin and his best friend Rashad (Common) have kids and there are a handful of new faces at the shop. Among them are Nicki Minaj, playing what is essentially a variation of her celebrity persona, and reliable funnyman JB Smoove portraying a fast-talking salesman whose speciality is whatever you need whenever you need it. Both bring an altogether unnecessary, but welcome breath of fresh twists to Calvin’s barbershop community, and as soon as they’re introduced you feel as if they could have always been present in the series.
There are several plots happening at once throughout the near-two-hour runtime of The Next Cut, but the focus of the film is the ongoing violence on Chicago’s south side and how it is impacting the lives of everyone who calls Calvin’s shop home. Increased gang activity has taken a toll on the local economy, including the barbershop, and those with kids are constantly worried their child may be the next innocent life lost. Calvin wants to believe things will turn around, but continually rising crime rates have him thinking such change may be impossible. He’s even thinking of moving the shop, though he’s afraid to share such ideas, and his inability to figure out the best course of action is largely what propels the movie forward.
The heart of the film is, as always, found in the comically honest conversations that take place in Calvin’s shop. Nothing is off-limits for this group, and that’s a good thing because it allows the story to address timely real-world issues such as sex, race, religion and politics without putting restraint on what can or should be said. The large cast provides ample opportunity for differing opinions to be heard, which in turn gives further validity to whatever characters choose to draw from their interaction. That said, things can and do get uncomfortable from time to time, but that is kind of the point because those moments mirror how conversations work in the real world. People often shy away from tough topics because they fear confrontation, but the people in Calvin’s barbershop thrive on it. They seem to understand that meaningful change only happen if we talk to one another about the problems we face and learn to see those issues from the perspectives of our peers. This belief more or less serves as the foundation for the entire franchise if we’re being completely honest, and here the material covered feels more urgent than ever.
Where The Next Cut stumbles is in its attempt to give nearly every secondary character their own plot. Director Malcolm D. Lee has previously proven his ability to balance multiple storylines with ensemble features such as The Best Man Holiday, but here those talents are strangely absent. Characters come and go with little to no sense of time or place. It’s rarely clear if minutes, hours or even days have passed from scene to scene, and there is rarely a sense of urgency with any one story. Aside from Calvin worrying over his son’s possible involvement with a gang, the risk inherent in most arcs is non-existent. No one story fails completely, but most feel largely disposable, as if added to ensure extra padding between the important conversations that serve as the film’s backbone.
You could easily cut 20 minutes off Barbershop: The Next Cut and create an even better film than the one written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, but as is the latest Barbershop flick is still a cut above its predecessors. Ice Cube has brought together one of the most entertaining ensembles of all time, and I sincerely hope we are able to spend more time with them in the years ahead. What these films lack in metaphor and narrative depth is more than made up for in the conversations and change they aim to incite through their existence. The world needs more films that take place in the world around us and suggest alternatives to how we live now that go beyond simply accepting the impending demise of as a foregone conclusion. Films have the power to inspire change and open minds, which is ultimately what this film tries to accomplish. I just hope its message does not fall on deaf ears.