Ice Cube and his “Barbershop” castmates probably could have gone on making one sequel after another, fond as their cutup characters are of hanging out shooting the product-scented breeze. Somehow, though, it took them more than a decade to return for a third outing, “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” And guess what? They’ve still got plenty to say.
This time the not-so-idle talk is about taking a socially conscious stand against gang violence. And while some of this territory is covered too tritely and safely to have all the impact intended by director Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man Holiday”), the movie’s entreaties are compelling enough.
No kidding it’s been a while since we last saw Calvin (Ice Cube), jabbering old Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), and friends. Calvin and his wife (Jazsmin Lewis) are now parents to a bright but impressionable teenage son (Michael Rainey Jr.). The business has merged with the beauty parlor next door. Resident spitfire Terri (Eve) is married to soft-spoken hunk Rashad (Common), one of many new faces around the place. The most recognizable: Rashad-ogling hoot Nicki Minaj, hucksterish JB Smoove, and Lamorne Morris of “New Girl,” still searching for a fully developed character.
But as Calvin laments in an opening montage, a bigger change than any of this is the escalating gang problem plaguing his beloved Chicago. Calvin’s latest George Bailey dilemma isn’t about maintaining the beneficent family business, but about relocating from the dicey South Side. Part of him is down with his crew’s brainstorm to offer free haircuts as an incentive for gun-toting rivals to cease fire and congregate peacefully. But another part of him is so freaked by his son’s troubling gang flirtations that he just wants out. Scenes with Rainey’s hipster naïf being preyed upon have an insidiousness that might play in “Straight Outta Compton,” even if a related tragedy is too dramatically convenient to hit very hard.
Calvin and the staff engage in some provocative discussion about their responsibility and prospects for managing the crisis facing their neighborhood. Some of the sharpest lines about the African-American condition could be more focused, such as when one character rhetorically asks, “Does our president being black stop Trayvon Martin?” A bolder film might tackle these broader issues of race head on, rather than simply slipping them into a diatribe. Still, for a freshly-shaved-chin wag, “The Next Cut” covers ambitious ground.
BARBERSHOP: The Next Cut
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Starring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Common, Nicki Minaj. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 112 minutes. PG-13 (sexual material and language).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.