- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

“Barbershop 2: Back in Business” reassembles both the cast from the sleeper 2002 hit and the politically incorrect soul that made us snap to collective attention.

The sequel may recreate the original’s vibe, but more often its dialogue sounds like an inventory of every black-themed cultural event or complaint in recent memory. If rap music is CNN for the inner city, as some have claimed, then “Barbershop 2” is that all-news network complete with the maddening crawl at the bottom of the screen.

By the time the film hits DVD, many of its from-the-headlines references will be moldy.

The overrated original hit hard enough to draw the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s ire for daring to mock both him and civil rights icon Rosa Parks. There’s no such inflammatory material here, though screenwriter Don D. Scott forces everything from the D.C.-area sniper cases to R. Kelly’s sex tapes into the characters’ yapping maws.

The sequel opens with the Chicago barbershop at relative peace until news hits that a chain hair salon aimed at urban customers is moving in across the street. The new Nappy Cutz hasn’t even opened but it’s already causing heartache for Calvin (rapper-actor Ice Cube), who fears his old-school cuttery can’t compete.

A cagey capitalist, Calvin rises to the challenge. He updates his shop’s look and reaches out to customers with a free barbecue.

He soon changes his tune, realizing there’s more than just his shop at stake. The whole block could be swallowed up by the deep-pocketed corporation trying to drop Nappy Cutz and other generic stores into the ‘hood. He makes a quixotic, Jefferson Smith-ish stand to stop it from happening.

Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan pulls the same easy camaraderie out of his cast as before, with Troy Garity deserving kudos for rising above his token role as the white barber who swears allegiance to the hip-hop state.

Ice Cube makes amends here for his one-note turn in “Torque,” projecting street cred and family values with an ease few actors could duplicate.

The sequel’s few laughs come whenever Cedric the Entertainer’s wild-haired Eddie launches into his patented tirades — but it overuses the portly comic, weighing him down with an unnecessary story told with 1967-era flashbacks.

“Barbershop 2” trots out the same heartwarming tropes from the original, such as the value of community ties in hard times. And examining gentrification is a shrewd approach upon which to build a secondary story. Still, the creative team doesn’t bother to establish either theme sufficiently to hold our interest. The film lurches for long stretches without rhythm or purpose — and a promising character, a crooked city alderman, never gets properly developed.

“Barbershop 2: Back in Business” rails against capitalism’s dark side, but it force-feeds us Queen Latifah as the owner of a neighboring beauty salon. It just so happens that the Oscar nominee will star in “Beauty Shop” later this year, the female version of “Barbershop.”

Guess the “Barbershop 2” producers, some of whom are associated with that project, don’t mind crass commercialism when it suits their purposes.

**

WHAT: “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”

RATING: PG13 (Coarse language and mild violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan. Written by Don D. Scott. Produced by Robert Teitel, Matt Alvarez, Alex Gartner and George Tillman.

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

WEB SITE: www.barbershop2.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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