Barbershop: The Next Cut is saddled with the task of taking a familiar property and bringing it up to date. In the hands of writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and director Malcom D. Lee, the strategy is to get political, with the issue of shootings and gang violence in Chicago as the galvanizing force around which the barbershop rallies. Leaving aside the humorous cultural escapism of the early aughts, The Next Cut faces the racial and political issues of 2016 head on.
Ice Cube returns as Calvin, a successful small business owner, married, with a teen son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), just trying to keep the wild bunch at the barbershop in check. With the exception of Terri (Eve) and Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), it’s a whole new crew in the shop, including Calvin’s best friend Rashad (Common), nerdy cute Jerrod (Lamorne Morris), “Bollyhood” barber Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), as well as entrepreneurial One Stop (J.B. Smoove) and uncensored Dante (Deon Cole).
On the other side of the shop is a ladies salon, managed by Angie (Regina Hall), featuring outlandishly dressed flirt Draya (Nicki Minaj) and the soulfully conscious Bree (Margot Bingham). The girls vs. boys layout allows for heated debates and banter covering everything from gender to presidential politics.
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The barbershop in this film is a hub of the community where issues of all types are hashed out. Right away, that issue becomes gang violence and shootings in their community. Calvin’s concerned about his son, and considers moving the business to the North Side. But with the threat of an ominous “enclosure” to stem the violence, soon to be voted on by the city council, the crew decides to promote a 48-hour cease-fire, with free haircuts for the duration, hoping to inspire peace talks and community bonding.
There’s a lot of rhetoric about “taking care of your own business” and placing the power on the individual to affect change. The neo-liberal ideas are espoused most vehemently by Raja, the son of Indian immigrants who chased the American Dream — though the lively debaters in the shop are quick to point out that the playing field isn’t level for African Americans.
The cease-fire seems strangely ineffective, a short term solution that doesn’t effect real change. But Barbershop: The Next Cut stays on message about community pride, family values and personal responsibility. It’s a wholesomely entertaining film, though some of the political discourse is a bit fast and loose with neo-liberal notions of individualism and respectability politics. It’s a mixed message, but that perfectly encapsulates the confusion of 2016 American politics.