You can't ignore the headlines spewing out of Chicago — the gun violence, the proliferation of gangs, the growing resistance by white police to the very concept that black lives matter. It's not a subject for laughs. But Barbershop: The Next Cut, the third in a comedy franchise that first opened its doors in 2002, refuses to ignore what going on outside its windows on the city's raging South Side.
Ice Cube, roiling inside like a gathering storm, is back as Calvin Palmer. Calvin owns the place with Angie (Regina King), whose team of bodacious beauticians shares the premises, much to the annoyance of Eddie, the veteran scissorhands played to the hilt and beyond by Cedric the Entertainer. Don't get me wrong, the fun is still rough and rowdy and everyone gets up in it. The gender warfare in the shop gives a satirical hosing to everyone from R. Kelly to Obama ("Barack has definitely got bitches"). As ever, the Barbershop franchise lets in fresh players, here including Utkarsh Ambudkar as a barber from India who votes Republican, Lamorne Morris as a geek that everyone, including his dream girl (Margot Bingham, wonderful), takes for gay, and a knockout Nicki Minaj (booty note to the Kardashians, she twerks with everything she's got) as a siren stylist who comes between a barber (Common, terrific) and his wife (Eve).
But these subplots take a backseat to what really matters. Calvin is worried that his teenage son Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.) is getting recruited by gangbangers. He thinks of selling the shop and hightailing off to the safer North Side. But first a plan is hatched: use social media to offer free haircuts during a weekend-long ceasefire that will return the barbershop to a no-kill zone where people can talk shit in peace. Sure, it's a reach. But new screenwriters Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver make a deft go of it. And director Malcolm D. Lee, of the Best Man films, marshals his troops with commendable skill. The director's cousin, Spike Lee, juggled a similar hot potato with more ambition in last year's Chi-raq. But the direct approach taken here pays major dividends. Barbershop: The Next Cut is stagey, often simplistic and it talks too damn much. But, hell, the talk has flavor and snap and a real-world sense of a community in crisis. Not bad for an escapist romp.