It’s been so long since Barbershop 2: Back in Business came out — a dozen years, in fact — that I can’t remember much about it or its predecessor, Barbershop (2002), except that they were pleasant and welcome. Even counting 2005’s spinoff Beauty Shop, it’s been a long time since audiences inhabited this world. Honestly, I’m not even sure which one of them I’ve seen. The third installment, Barbershop: The Next Cut, coming so many years later, is a little confounding. The fact that it’s not bad is even stranger. I mean, this is an era of Hollywood, where everything gets rebooted or retooled or sequeled, with no property too sacred or forgotten, nor any dollar too up for grabs. Hollywood has precedents for long-out-of-vogue sequels and shots in the dark. Consider Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001), which came out 13 years after Crocodile Dundee II. But just saying “another Crocodile Dundee movie” makes my brow furrow, so why another Barbershop after all these years?
Thankfully, Barbershop: The Next Cut is pretty smart and entertaining, knows what it does well and does it. It’s warm and clever and carries enough social commentary to not be wholly disposable. The movie finds barbershop owner Calvin (Ice Cube) and his gang of misfit barbers still in business — albeit now with a crew of women stylists working across the room — but in a neighborhood with more and more gang violence. With things growing increasingly dangerous and even threatening to rope in Calvin’s teenage son, dad decides to take thing into his own hands — constructively, of course, through community action.
Structurally, the film allows for a lot of dialogue and monologues and a fast enough pace so that if a joke falls flat, the next one will work, even if all the pop-culture references are doomed to age poorly. Thankfully, a cast has been assembled (or, for the most part, reassembled) that can handle the load and simply be amiable. I mean, despite a truly uneven career, Ice Cube can still be pretty damn watchable when he’s given the right role. The film manages to balance its comedy with its exasperation at Chicago’s rise in gun violence. However, the interspersed levity reduces the film’s power, feeling at times a bit pat and tidy, though I will say its faith in community is comforting. While it’s likable and says a lot of the right things on some timely subjects, its congeniality blunts the film’s impact to an extent — assuming it wanted any at all. The film’s first purpose, above all, is to be enjoyable, and in this sense, The Next Cut is a success. Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language.