“This is the town I love,” Chicago native son Calvin Parker Jr. (Ice Cube) intones in Barbershop: The Next Cut’s opening scene, as the camera swoops from glistening towers to sun-dappled playgrounds. “The birthplace of the skyscraper, deep-dish pizza, Don Cornelius, Kanye West. The home of the Cubs, Bulls, and the undisputed queen of daytime television, Oprah”—in other words, a city rich (in both culture and cholesterol) with history. But there’s no denying the mess of the present: “The streets are talking,” he says. “They’re tired. They’re angry.”
That voiceover is the first hint that Next Cut is aiming for something beyond the loose, big-hearted comedy of the franchise’s three previous outings. (Its last entry, 2005’s Atlanta-set Beauty Shop, was technically a spinoff). From the first installment in 2002, the series has always rallied around certain core values: the importance of loyalty and friendship and family; the space a local shop provides not just for cutting hair but for centering and serving a community. Here, though, the specter of violence looms early and large: Calvin’s Southside storefront is plagued by neighborhood decay and almost-daily gunshots; some customers are too scared to even come by anymore, while others are too dangerous to let in the door.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, who penned the script along with Tracy Oliver (Starz’ Survivor’s Remorse), struggles sometimes to balance easy banter with serious issues; cracks about bad weaves, Instagram, and STDs toggle with sobering talk about Trayvon Martin, Freddie Grey, and whether Obama really serves his black constituents. Certain jokes cut sharper than a fresh clipper set; others land with a dull safety-scissors thud. The cast has also expanded to include new additions like Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Regina Hall, and New Girl’s Lamorne Morris while retaining most of the original stars, and the crisscrossing of personalities and plotlines can feel both chaotic and sitcom-stagey. (When one minor character is killed offscreen, it’s not really a surprise; his one-note sweetness seems to have doomed him from the start).
Still, the movie works hard to take on both everyday concerns (money, romance, keeping a small business afloat) and deeper dramas (Calvin has to keep a lockbox for certain regulars’ guns, and there’s a local gang actively recruiting his son) without losing the spark that brought the franchise this far in the first place. And even when it falls short of its aim to get every last Beyoncé joke and Big Idea onscreen, the movie still offers what any barbershop worth its repeat customers provides: An hour or two of good company, and the feeling that you’re leaving a little sharper than when you came in. B