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Movie Review

An Understated Ice Cube Presides Over Wise 'Barbershop'

With humor and authenticity, the film celebrates a gathering place in the African American community.


"Barbershop" is as warm as it is wise, deftly setting off uproarious humor with an underlying seriousness that sneaks up on the viewer, providing an experience that is richer than anticipated.

A lively and endearing cast is headed by Ice Cube, in an impressively understated performance as Calvin, the hard-pressed proprietor of a Chicago barbershop.

From his late father, Calvin inherited the barbershop that his grandfather opened in 1958. The shop was never very profitable, and in his eagerness to get ahead, Calvin has eaten up his meager savings in desperate get-rich-quick schemes. Facing foreclosure, he gets serious about selling the business.

The barbershop, however, is a community institution like countless others in old black neighborhoods across the country. It is a gathering place for African American males of all generations. Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), a barber whose tenure at the shop spans decades, says the barbershop is "our own country club ... the one place we can talk straight."

Eddie is intent on instilling pride in being a barber in his younger colleagues: "A haircut can change the way a man feels about himself." He's also a motormouth who exercises his right to free speech hilariously, spouting outrageous opinions about black icons with the wit and timing that made Cedric such a standout in the concert film "The Original Kings of Comedy."

By the time Eddie has raised Calvin's consciousness about the shop, it may be too late. What Calvin does next reveals writers Mark Brown, Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd to be as clever at plotting as they are in evoking the human comedy the barbershop denizens bring to vivid life under Tim Story's loving, well-paced direction.

Ice Cube's Calvin is a young man capable of reflection who has yet to realize how like his father and grandfather he actually is. He is a skilled peacekeeper among his barbers, calming down rap star Eve's Terri, who's forever complaining that someone's drinking her apple juice and is chronically edgy over her handsome boyfriend's flagrant infidelity.

Equally hyper is Sean Patrick Thomas' Jimmy, a college student, barber and condescending know-it-all who especially resents the presence of a young white guy, Troy Garity's affable Isaac, who simply appreciates Calvin's giving him an opportunity to learn his trade.

Calvin's instinctive, laid-back inclusiveness extends to Michael Ealy's likable but moody Ricky, a two-time loser desperately trying to stay straight, and to a neighboring shopkeeper, a native of India (Parvesh Cheena).

Providing a consistently funny running gag are Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate as inept crooks who have made off with an ATM machine and don't know what to do with it. Jazsmin Lewis is Calvin's loyal but plain-speaking wife, and Keith David is the local loan shark (and chop-shop operator), a sharp vision in powder blue with a vintage Lincoln Continental to match.

Exemplifying the care with which this film is made is production designer Roger Fortune's barbershop, a spacious, worn but inviting place virtually unchanged since its opening. Modeled after Terrell's Afro Barber Shop on Chicago's North Side and the Victory Barber Shop in Harlem, the barbershop is authentic down to its last period detail. Calvin's Barbershop fits right into the Chicago locales captured with a gritty grace by cinematographer Tom Priestley.

"Barbershop" celebrates the pleasures of a precious, surely often endangered communal retreat that many predominantly white neighborhoods lost long ago in the flight to the suburbs but which endure in the city.

MPAA rating: PG-13, for language, sexual content and brief drug references. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for older teens.


Ice Cube...Calvin

Cedric the Entertainer...Eddie

Anthony Anderson...JD

Sean Patrick Thomas...Jimmy


Michael Ealy...Ricky

Leonard Earl Howze...Dinka

Keith David...Lester

Lahmard Tate...Billy

An MGM presentation of a State Street Pictures/Cube Vision production. Director Tim Story. Producers Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr., Mark Brown. Executive producers Matt Alvarez, Larry Kennar. Screenplay by Mark Brown and Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd; from a story by Brown. Cinematographer Tom Priestley. Editor John Carter. Music Terence Blanchard. Costumes Devon P.F. Patterson. Production designer Roger Fortune. Art director Gary Baugh. Set decorator Patricia Schneider. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

In general release.

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