Barbershop 2: Back in Business has pretty much all the pieces that go into a good movie: full characters, relevant and contemporary plot, and even some interesting effects. And yet, these pieces fit disjointedly together, causing Barbershop 2 to fall short of being a truly remarkable film.
Calvin (Ice Cube) owns and operates the local South side Chicago neighborhood barbershop opened by his father in 1958. Business is thriving and all the characters from the first Barbershop seem to have hit their strides. All remain at the shop except Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas), who has achieved his political goal, working for the black politician Alderman Brown (Robert Wisdom). The well-dressed, but sleazy cell-phone-on-the-hip developer Quentin Leroux (Harry Lennix) provides the plot's tension as he threatens Calvin's livelihood; he plans to open the successful franchise Nappy Cutz across the street, luring clients with titanium clippers, fish in the floor and basketball while you wait. It is here that Barbershop 2 begins to grapple with the serious and complex issues of gentrification and the takeover of small businesses by corporations. Calvin is forced to wrestle with the conflicts of personal business strategy, the good of neighborhood's businesses, and the good of its people as plans develop to turn his whole block into a mall of chains. Upping the emotional and psychological ante, scenes of the 1960s are interspersed, wherein we get to see the history of the barbershop, its importance to the community, and its survival through the tumultuous decade and riots.
The intensity increases in Barbershop 2 from the unbelievable and bumbling thievery of the original Barbershop to the community activism and the survival of small business in America. By depicting the real forces that endanger urban communities, Barbershop 2 raises the stakes for the film and thereby engaged me more fully. Yet this comes at the expense of the original's shtick – that is, the barbershop as a site of soap boxing and controversial town hall. Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) continues to stir up some trouble with comments like, "The DC sniper is the Jackie Robinson of crime." This time around, however, they act more as afterthoughts and exist purely for shock value than an integral part of the story.
Like the unfulfilling shoptalk, the transitions and flashbacks in the Barbershop 2 unfortunately do not live up to their potential. The flashbacks focus on both the history and significance of the shop and the story of young Eddie. While these two storylines do overlap, their aims are different enough that their relevance to the contemporary story becomes muddled and unclear. Rather than provide the present-day plot with more context and drama, these vignettes distract and are never fully incorporated into the flow of the story.
These flashbacks also employ numerous fancy film tricks. I get the sense an editing newbie had a little too much fun switching back and forth between black and white and color and then flexing his/her digital muscles by oh-so-cleverly colorizing sweaters and lipsticks and other tantalizingly colorful bits of 60s fashion, in the black and white scenes near the end. As I struggled to figure out the point of these color change processes, I was reminded of the guys in high school that never left the AV room because they were too busy putting warp effects of Fantasia to eat lunch. The impetus behind the technique of using altered colorization, that is, distinction from the regular movie timeline, is destroyed when the flashback itself is inconsistent. It was very distracting, and I found myself focusing more on the effect than what the scenes were trying to convey.
Barbershop 2 tackles some real issues and the main characters are every bit as genuine as they were in the first film. While the movie as a whole did not achieve the greatness and coherence that it could have, considering the parts that were so well-crafted, I, nevertheless appreciated that the film managed to fairly successfully tackle these lofty, if imperfectly balanced aspects of the film.