In the tradition held by the likes of 300: Rise of an Empire, Dumb & Dumber To, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and even the upcoming Blade Runner 2, we have another belated sequel hoping to gain some of that sweet, sweet nostalgia cash. It’s been 12 years since Barbershop 2: Back in Business and 11 since the spin-off, Beauty Shop. For one reason or another, someone thought now was a great time to get (most) of the gang back together for another trip back to the Chicago hair cuttery in Barbershop: The Next Cut, directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver.

Life is good for Calvin (Ice Cube) and his co-workers at his barbershop. But that is not to say that there aren’t any concerns. As gang violence continues to be a regularity in the south side of Chicago, Calvin and his friends decide to come up with an idea to benefit the community.

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The first Barbershop is a bit faded in my mind, but I remember liking it quite a bit, but I haven’t seen either the sequel or the spin-off. So, to say that I wasn’t expecting much from Barbershop: The Next Cut (from this point on, I’ll just refer to it as TNC) would be a bit of an understatement. However, to my surprise, despite my overall lack of familiarity with the franchise, I had a great time watching the film.
There’s a lot of things to like about TNC, and a majority of it comes from its immensely likable cast. Not only is there a good balance between the time given to each character, but the chemistry is astounding. It adds to the very natural and casual atmosphere that the film is trying to create. Even at their most cartoonish, each character is grounded in some way or another. These are the kind of people you watch and you think to yourself, “I know someone like that!” And with a cast as packed with the likes of Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Eve, Common, Jazsmin Lewis, Nicki Minaj, Deon Cole, Lamorne Morris, Utkarsh Ambudkar and so many other people that I’m probably forgetting, you get a real sense of camaraderie and friendship and it allows the back-and-forths to feel authentic and spontaneous. Pretty much everyone gets a couple great moments and the actors are more than capable to making those moments shine.

But of course, what makes TNC so much more interesting (and frankly, better) than so many comedy sequels is the way it allows for social relevancy. Given the set-up, it allows for conversation upon conversation to build and turn and go into areas of commentary. While I do remember the first Barbershop delving into things like race relations, it ultimately felt like tangents, here, it is the big neon sign, flashing a giant arrow screaming, “Hey, this is a problem and it needs to be fixed!” The film ends up playing like a lighter, softer companion piece to one of 2015’s best films, the Spike Lee joint, Chi-Raq. It is an open indictment on the growing gun/gang violence in south side Chicago and the way the African American community are left to fend for themselves while politicians talk the talk but never walk the walk (I’m probably gonna regret that sentence after publishing this).

It’s a film very aware of itself, it drops names like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, knowing the impact and it’s never ashamed to go places that would normally make people uncomfortable. The film also deals in the different experiences, double standards of different genders and sexualities. The women are an equal part in this Barbershop since the shop is basically a half-and-half Barbershop and Beauty Shop. It’s a shared space and the movie itself keeps that inclusiveness and open-mindedness close to its heart. Granted, the stuff dealing in the issue of sex/gender relations more or less fall in line with the tangents that I mentioned earlier, as the issue of violence affecting the community is the focus. Another thing that I loved about the film is that whenever these tangents do happen, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion, without the film ever needing to point out if he or she is right or wrong. It’s a small thing, but considering how easily something like this could have come across like a bad “Special Episode” of a sitcom, it was very refreshing.

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While I do have some minor issues with the film, they are mostly quite small, except for one in particular that bugs me on a personal level. There is an Indian character in here, Raja, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar. He is good in the film, but the way the film dealt with his character, I found to be a tad disappointing. It happened specifically at a point where a local African American politician leaves the barbershop and a conversation begins about the lack of support from politicians who always talk about the need for improvement, but never actually doing anything about it. Raja brings up the point of the locals needing to take a stand and helping themselves. He points out his immigrant parents as an example of minorities that come to America and make it against all the odds. The characters criticize him for this because they tell him that society doesn’t offer the black community the privilege of truly standing for themselves in a way that will have any impact because of a system that has a bad history of looking down on them. Both are good points and again, the film admirably doesn’t take sides, it allows the characters to openly discuss their feelings. However, this moment revealed to me that the filmmakers don’t seem to have a full grasp on not just the struggles of Indian Americans, but just South Asians in general. One September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed in Arizona by a man named Frank Roque, who thought he was doing the right thing because the likes of ‘them’ attacked the country a few days ago. Balbir is an Indian who practices in the Sikh religion, but he was mistaken for being an Arab or a Muslim. On September 8, 2015, Inderjit Singh Mukker, was hospitalized after being brutally beaten by a teenager who called him “a terrorist” and at one point “Bin Laden.”

This incident happened in Chicago.

This is an issue that is facing not only the American Sikh community but Indians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, anyone who looks like they can fit into the stereotype of a raging terrorist. I’m not saying that we have suffered more than the African American community, this isn’t a contest. This is simply the fact that there are always new victims and that we are dealing in the same nonsense that African Americans have dealt with for such a long time (also, I was literally called a “raghead” by a complete stranger just days before writing this, this is real and it can’t be ignored). It’s important to realize that we should all be on the same side, especially in a world where the societal default is still considered a white male (and by the way, I’m only talking about America, not even bringing up the horror reigned by the Crown when Britain ruled over India). The fact that nothing like this is ever brought up by Raja was disheartening because the last thing I want is for the filmmakers to be just as ignorant of our issues as they claim white Americans are to theirs. Also, Raja is apparently a Republican and I don’t get why. The big conservative Indian Americans in the public consciousness are Bobby Jindal and Dinesh D’Souza and they are literally the worst possible representation of us. It’s an odd detail, and while Raja left more to be desired, it’s at least nice to see an Indian character in a mainstream film given a voice.

But anyway, rant over.

The other issues I had were really minor stuff in terms of the film’s presentation. While it is more smarter than the “Special Episode” of a sitcom that I compared with earlier, it still looks very much like something that belongs on TV, or even the stage. It does have a very community theater vibe at times. It doesn’t hurt the film that much because it allows the story to get straight to the point without the artistry maybe getting in the way (I will say, this is a million times more accessible than Chi-Raq, that’s for sure), and the community theater vibes do end up giving the film a lot in terms of charm.

Barbershop: The Next Cut may not seem like much, but it is easily the biggest surprise I’ve had the delight of experiencing this year so far. Not only is the film as fast and funny as can be, but it is smarter than you think it is, it’s more heartfelt than you think it is, and it has a lot more to say than you think it does, which to me is the best surprise a film can offer. Despite some lackluster presentation and the constant tonal whiplash, the film offers a unique charm that is handled expertly by an fantastic cast (yes, even Nicki Minaj is great) and their genuine desire to make a difference, as hokey as it may be, shows that a little effort can go pretty far as long as you put the care and attention needed to fix the place you call home. 75/100