Eric D. Snider

Barbershop 2

The charm of "Barbershop" (2002) was the casual conversation among its characters, the way the dialogue established rapport, brotherhood and community while being funny at the same time. You liked hanging out with the people, even if all they really did was sit in a barbershop and shoot the breeze.

Somehow the magic is gone, or at least greatly reduced, in the uninspired sequel, "Barbershop 2: Back in Business." This time the beloved Chicago South-Side neighborhood fixture is threatened by the imminent arrival of a franchise hair salon called Nappy Cutz across the street -- think of Fox Books moving in next to The Shop Around the Corner in "You've Got Mail"; it's that same kind of small-business, they're-cheaper-but-we-have-character sentimentality.

Calvin's Barbershop does indeed have character, and characters. Foremost among them is still Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the largely unintelligible, cantankerous old barber who was popular enough after the first film to be given his own subplot in this one. (Unfortunately, it's an irrelevant one that involves flashbacks.) He still says outrageous things, and many of them are funny, but you get the feeling the screenwriter, Don D. Scott (who co-wrote the first film), is scraping around inside a mine that wasn't meant to be visited more than once.

That is the curse of most sequels, of course, the foolishness of trying to make lightning strike twice. The curse of this particular sequel, directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (1998's "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"), is assuming the fondness we felt for the characters in the first film will carry over automatically to this one without re-establishing WHY we liked them.

For example, take Isaac (Troy Garity), the barbershop's one white employee, who finally got some respect by the end of the first film. In the sequel, he has become a haircutting superstar and has let it go to his head. He's a jerk for most of the film ... so, um, why are we supposed to like him? Oh, right, because we liked him in "Barbershop." Sorry, movie, but it doesn't work that way.

Basically, unless you've recently watched "Barbershop," you won't remember these characters or their connections to each other, but the sequel expects you to anyway. It takes shortcuts when it should have gone the long way around -- something I hesitate to say, since the movie is too long as it is.

And so it is fitfully amusing, buoyed a bit by a charismatic supporting performance by Queen Latifah, weighed down a bit by a typically sour-faced and dull performance by Ice Cube, all of it less interesting and less entertaining than it ought to have been. If Eddie gets his own film, I quit.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13, a lot of profanity, some sexual innuendo

1 hr., 58 min.

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