By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated September 11, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

The African-American staff and customers who populate the tonsorial parlor owned by Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) in the eager-to-entertain, conservative comedy Barbershop are denizens of present-day South Side Chicago. But sometimes, when the light hits just right in this reassuring, retro uplifter, the clock seems to tick backward to the 1950s, when a man armed with nothing more persuasive than a good shave and a haircut could make something of himself.

The kind of blue-chip values promoted here are nothing new to audiences of ”Soul Food” and ”Men of Honor” — crime doesn’t pay; treat your women right; and love your neighbor (including the Indian shopkeeper down the street). And the plot is one of straight-up, be-true-to-your-roots responsibility, in which Calvin, who inherited the business from his late father and feels stifled by its squareness, first decides to sell the place to a local loan shark, then decides otherwise. The earnestness is leavened, however, by some of the airy funkiness of Cube’s earlier ”Friday” comedies. And the mixed-up rhythms of the story rescue ”Barbershop” from bland goodness.

While an effervescent Cedric the Entertainer (hair poufed and parted in a big Frederick Douglass ‘do) dominates the proceedings as the shop’s senior philosopher/kibitzer, riffing zestfully about Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, and Rosa Parks, rap star Eve wields clippers as the only woman in the shop; ”Save the Last Dance”’s Sean Patrick Thomas plays a highfalutin college student cutting hair to pay tuition; and Troy Garity fascinates as Isaac Rosenberg, a white barber who lives black, from his fly girlfriend to his wardrobe. As it does for many young white men, the racial crossover represents a kind of personal revolution for Isaac. Then again, for Garity, the actor son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, revolution is a family affair.

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