Living in a city where you regularly wake up to headlines tallying how many people got shot over the weekend wears on you after a while. No matter how much you love your home, you inevitably end up having “why am I still here” conversations with yourself. This is the conflict at the heart of Barbershop: The Next Cut. It’s been fourteen years since the original Barbershop, Calvin’s son is now a teenager, and the South Side of Chicago has become a veritable war zone. The Next Cut takes a free-wheeling approach to current events, but the heart of the story is Calvin struggling with that question—why am I still here?—as he tries to keep his son on the straight and narrow even as their neighborhood falls apart.
Ice Cube returns as barbershop proprietor Calvin, along with franchise regulars Cedric the Entertainer—repeating his old man schtick as Eddie—Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jazsmin Lewis, and Anthony Anderson. They’re joined by newcomers Common, Nicki Minaj, comedian J.B. Smoove, and New Girl’s Lamorne Morris, and together they make up an effective ensemble. For reasons that don’t really jive with 2005’s Beauty Shop spin-off, Calvin’s barbershop has merged with the beauty shop to form a co-ed shared space, which makes for a more gender-balanced dynamic that works really well. Because it’s been so long since the original films, and because there are so many new characters, this is a friendly entry point for new viewers—it works as a stand-alone.
The Next Cut has a bit of an episodic feel to it as the denizens of Calvin’s shop debate every topic under the sun, from the gun violence overrunning Chicago, to President Obama, to the more mundane “men and women are so different!” stuff that has been the staple of comedy since time immemorial, tying together multiple personal storylines. Not every element works—Anthony Anderson’s food truck plot is not compelling—but for the most part, The Next Cut manages to be both very funny and sobering. The stuff about Chicago felt particularly urgent, sitting in a theater in Chicago, and I think the film hit a little harder here than it will in other places.
It’s impossible not to compare The Next Cut to Spike Lee’s scathing satire Chi-Raq, especially since Next Cut’s director, Malcolm D. Lee, is related to Spike (they’re cousins). The Next Cut doesn’t have nearly the bite of Chi-Raq, but it deals in some of the same themes and ideas, and it does so in a way that will be easier for general audiences to digest. Particularly the question of why not just move—a popular refrain amongst commuters who spend business hours in Chicago and have no idea what it’s like to actually live in the city—as it’s addressed from the point of view of a small business owner/entrepreneur with a rock solid family life. Calvin represents the American dream, and he just wants to raise his son in the neighborhood where he grew up. It’s a very relatable premise.
The Next Cut also calls to mind Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, in that it plays like the parent’s perspective on that story. Like Malcolm in Dope, Calvin’s son, Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr., Orange is the New Black), is trying to stay out of the violence tearing the South Side apart, but an incident at the beginning of the film reminds us how random gun violence can be. Still, the film is not a downer at all—thanks to the chemistry of the cast and the genuinely funny moments they find together, The Next Cut is a net positive.
The cast is really a joy to watch. Common, in particular, is outstanding. He did great work on AMC’s little-seen Hell on Wheels, and here he continues to show real range as an actor—he should be headlining films. Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, doesn’t blend that well. It doesn’t help that she’s paired in many scenes with Eve, who is a good actress and only highlights exactly what Minaj isn’t achieving. But this is a great ensemble and it’s fun to watch them bounce off each other as they trade barbs and quips. The Next Cut is a comedy with dramatic heft or a drama with solid comedy, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it more than justifies returning to the barbershop.
Attached - Ice Cube performing at Coachella this weekend.