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Barbershop (Special Edition) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 January 2003


MGM Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, Keith David, Cedric the Entertainer, Jazsmin Lewis
release year: 2002
film rating: Four stars
sound/picture: Four stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

One of the warmest, funniest comedies of 2002, "Barbershop" is downright endearing, with such a terrific premise that it's surprising it's never been used before: a "work-place" story over the course of one day set in a barbershop done as an ensemble piece. It's a black barbershop in a somewhat rundown (but not trashed) area of Chicago, on the South side. The cast is all black, except for one young white barber (Troy Garity), who has embraced hip hop/rap black way of life, and made it his own. (Eminem anyone?)

The central character is Calvin (Ice Cube), a dreamer who inherited the shop from his late father two years ago. He's always thinking of get-rich-quick schemes, which rarely pan out. His loyal (and pregnant) wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) promises to support his dreams, but she's beginning to become a little impatient.

We meet the barbers themselves; Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas) is working his way through college, and delights in showing off his knowledge to everyone else, even if it means insulting them. Ricky (Michael Ealy) has been a street punk, with two felony convictions; we (but not the others) notice that despite his efforts to drop the criminal life, he's on the verge of returning to it. Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) is an overweight West African who is openly sweet on the only woman working in the shop, Terri (Eve), who has a rotten boyfriend and who frequently complains about someone drinking her private stash of apple juice. And of course there's Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), much older than the rest of them, who has an opinion on everyone and everything, and who spouts them off (very amusingly) all day long.

Customers come and go all day long, sometimes more than once, as we follow the shop through the day. But we're focused on Calvin who, unknown to the others, has been reluctantly informed by a bank representative that they're going to have to foreclose unless he pays his back taxes. So he sells the shop to sleek loan shark Lester Wallace (Keith David) for $20,000. But events of the day make Calvin realize just how important his barbershop is to the community, and tries to give Lester back his money -- but Lester wants double his investment back.

All the activity at the barbershop is intercut with the misadventures of inept crooks J.D. (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Lahmard Tate), who've smashed-and-grabbed an ATM from a store across the street from the barbershop. Director Tim Story intercuts entertainingly between his "A story" and his "B story." Anderson, who's big and fat (and in "Kangaroo Jack") and skinny Tate make a good team.

The same producer team did "Soul Food" and "Men of Honor," also black-oriented films that effortlessly (or so it looked) crossed racial lines and appealed to moviegoers in general. "Barbershop" is even better at this, and as a result turned a handsome profit for MGM. The studio, in fact, was so pleased by the film that it gave the go-ahead for a sequel before "Barbershop" was even released.

The cast lived together in a Chicago hotel for three weeks before shooting began, and reportedly developed a congenial relationship that is visible in the movie. They seem like a kind of family just a short way into the film -- though they bicker and argue, it's clear they actually matter to one another, and by the right kind of movie connection, they matter to us. None of the barbers is painted as a villain, or even unlikeable; two-time loser Ricky is edgy at first, but he's the one who speaks up for courage and responsibility. Each of the central characters is given his or her turn to shine. Some customers don't want white Isaac (Garity, son of Jane Fonda) to cut their hair, but it's not racially motivated -- it's they're just apprehensive that he might know the right way to cut the hair of African-Americans.

The script by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd is well-honed: the director (making his feature debut, evidently) and producers worked with each writer in turn, emphasizing details and focusing on characters until it's a small model of the well-made screenplay.

The ensemble cast is outstanding; as mentioned, each has a turn to shine, and no one dominates the others, though Calvin does remain the central character throughout. Cedric the Entertainer, under 40 when he made the film, perfectly embodies a certain type of friendly but cantankerous older man, who just HAS to have a word to say on any subject brought up. Eddie seems to be in his 70s, and he has an opinion for every year. Some of his opinions seem to have upset Jesse Jackson (I think it was probably Eddie's "F*** Jesse Jackson" rather than his "O.J. did it"), but they're clearly considered opinions deliberately presented in a colorful, outrageous way. A special note should be made of Leonard Earl Howze, who plays Dinka, the African; Howze makes Dinka a charming innocent, bright but a bit naïve, and provides him with the sunniest, most ingratiating smile since Gene Kelly.

The movie was shot on a very well-designed set with breakaway walls, so the action could be shot from any angle without effort. The exteriors were mostly shot on a real street in Chicago that welcomed the crew from Hollywood. It's a handsome film, without any element predominating. The photography is warm and colorful, the sets beautifully designed so each successively closer shot gives you more information, and the undoubtedly difficult-to-mix soundtrack seems naturalistic, even though it's not.

The extras are unexpectedly thorough and well-designed. There's one making-of about the whole film, and other shorter ones on different aspects, such as the production design, the photography and African-American hair styles and fads. The commentary track by (probably too many of) the participants is as ingratiating and friendly as the movie itself, even if we don't learn anything unusual about the making of the film.

"Barbershop" is a warm, comfortable movie that could easily be watched several times with pleasure. No wonder MGM launched the sequel. I suspect that this will lead to bigger (better?) things for director story and for producing partners Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital stereo
aspect ratio(s):
widescreen, 16X9 enhanced
special features: Making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, music video, interactive game, photos, etc.
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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