On the surface, the deal in Barbershop 2: Back in Business seems sweet: Allow urban renewal to work through proven cash cows like the Nappy Cutz chain hair salon with its basketball courts and exotic fish aquariums that Quentin Leroux (Harry Pennix) is building across the street from the local, family-owned Calvin's Barbershop.
Calvin (Ice Cube), of course, ain't having it. His barbershop was handed down to him by his father, as he hopes to do for his baby son. It's one of the few establishments that survived the Chicago riots of 1968 after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Ol' Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the elder and jester of the six-man-plus-one-lady team at Calvin's, helped preserve the shop during those riots.
In the first Barbershop, Calvin's crisis was finding a way to reclaim the shop after he impulsively sold it to a street pimp. In Barbershop 2, the pimps drive Porsches and speak Ivy League English while Cuban-leaf-wrapped penises hang out their mouths.
It's a classic clash-of-the-capitalists tale. On the other hand, as a comedy, it will neither have you touting the genius of the free market -- although Nappy Cutz does motivate Calvin to step up his barber game -- nor inspire you to join IMF protest demonstrations.
What makes the story great is the celebration of nuances, styles and language that make black barbershops -- and by extension black communities -- tick. One scene hones in on the sounds of the shop: the snip-snip of the scissors, the electric bizz-bizz of the clippers, the flaring sound of a razor being sharpened against leather. That comes after Calvin's curious banishment of the kind of "loud talk" that's usually the selling point for barbershops and their cinematic portrayals. While the talk certainly nourishes the soul of the shop -- especially Eddie's comedic serving up of R. Kelly and the D.C. snipers -- the light tap-dancing of the barbers' tools definitely could play the heart.
Other scenes, like the playing-the-dozens at a barbeque between Eddie and Gina (Queen Latifah), or black love in back of the shop between a thug-type scared to reveal his sensitive side and a diva over-reaching in her attempts to discard her rough side, are sparkling episodes of ghetto beauty. When Eddie watches a couple grind and whine against each other in a subway, it conveys so much more about the lucid b-boy aesthetic than other entire movies like You Got Served and Honey.
This tale of little guy vs. corporate giant is important, though not likely rooted in reality. Some black 'Burghers leaving the theater may feel conflicted that they had to see this at a suburban chain venue for lack of any movie theaters in their own neighborhoods.