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Ambitious 'Barbershop: The Next Cut' takes on recent South Chicago violence
Common stars as Rashad and Ice Cube as Calvin in "Barbershop: The Next Cut." - photo by Josh Terry
"BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT" 2 stars Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Sean Patrick Thomas, Common, Eve; PG-13 (sexual material and language); in general release

It's been 12 years since the last film in the Barbershop series, and it would be easy to suggest that "Barbershop: The Next Cut" is merely another attempt to cash in on an old franchise.

But that assessment would be wrong. Director Malcolm D. Lees "The Next Cut" is a reaction to the recent violence in the South Chicago neighborhood where the original films were set, and that juxtaposes the series' lighthearted feel against its heaviest backdrop yet.

The recent recession has hit the South Side hard, and as a result, Calvin (Ice Cube) has merged his local barbershop with a beauty salon run by Angie (Regina Hall). The interplay between the two businesses, separated only by a wide, black and white checkered linoleum expanse that runs the length of the building, creates a cinematic stage for the co-workers and clientele to mix, mingle and even come to blows.

The Barbershop series has always been about addressing social issues through the humorous prism of what in many neighborhoods doubles as a community center. "The Next Cut" references a laundry list of contemporary issues, but doubles down on two: gang violence and fidelity in marriage.

The first issue is the inspiration for the film and gets the bulk of the attention. Shootings have become a weekly occurrence on the South Side, and the gang activity is even threatening to engulf Calvin's teenage son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.). Things have gotten so bad that the mayor's office is considering extreme infrastructure changes that might make things even worse.

Determined to save the community he loves, but fearful enough for his son that he is willing to consider moving operations to Chicago's North Side, Calvin leads the barbershop crew on a special "cease fire" event to try to make a temporary peace between the rival gangs. The idea is to offer free haircuts and salon stylings for 48 hours and try to get enough publicity to rally community support.

In the meantime, the barbershop faces its traditional localized drama. Two of Calvin's barbers, Rashad (Common) and Terri (Eve), are having marriage trouble thanks to Terri's lucrative media side job, and to make matters worse, one of Angies stylists (Draya, played by Nicki Minaj) seems intent on breaking up their marriage.

The plot is very dialogue-heavy, and over the course of 112 minutes, in addition to gang violence and fidelity, "The Next Cut" references police brutality, racism, snitching, gun control, interracial relationships, nonprofit fraud, and whether pastel shirts are an accurate reflection of a man's sexual orientation.

This catchall collage makes "The Next Cut" a better snapshot of contemporary issues than an effective response to any of them. And anyone paying close attention will find that the film leans pretty hard left in the political winds (the resolution to one subplot has an Indian barber, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, deciding to formally become a Democrat). It does a lot to make you think, but The Next Cut has a much harder time persuading you what to think about anything in particular.

Like in the previous films, "The Next Cut" is at its best when it focuses on Calvin's own relationships with his family and the co-workers and customers he cares about. Ice Cubes character is designed to be a commentary on the crisis of fatherhood, and his interactions with his son are the genuine heart of the film.

The total package is a mixed bag, and the fact that the film was shot in Atlanta instead of Chicago puts a somber tone on its message. But The Next Cut gets some worthy gems alongside its more muddled points and should stand as a vivid snapshot of a conflicted time for a celebrated city.

"Barbershop: The Next Cut" is rated PG-13 for sexual material and language; running time: 112 minutes.
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