On Sept. 13, 2002, MGM unveiled the comedy Barbershop in theaters, where it would go on to gross $77 million and launch a franchise of two theatrical sequels and one spinoff. The Hollywood Reporter‘s original review is below.
An amiable and entertaining comedy that displays some of the loose-limbed boisterousness of such predecessors as Car Wash, MGM’s Barbershop looks to be a crowd-pleasing winner with urban audiences, with significant crossover appeal as well.
Taking place over the course of one long day at a neighborhood barbershop on Chicago’s South Side, the film, while not exactly breaking any new comedic ground, features a talented ensemble cast delivering highly enjoyable performances, with a particularly low-key and appealing turn by the normally glowering Ice Cube. Although occasionally static to the point of resembling a stage play, the film delivers a solid mixture of sweetness and laughs. Unveiled at New York’s Urbanworld Film Festival, Barbershop is set for a theatrical release next month.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the efforts of Calvin (Cube) to hold on to his struggling business, which his late father ran for 40 years. Calvin, whose supportive wife (Jazsmin Lewis) is expecting, would much rather be running a recording studio (he’s got a makeshift one in his garage) than a barbershop. So, unable to make the bank payments, he sells out to Lester (Keith David), a local loan shark. But when Calvin learns that the place will be turned into a strip club, he has a change of heart, only to be rebuffed by Lester, who demands double his money back.
The other — and far sillier — running plotline concerns the efforts of two misbegotten crooks, the rotund JD (Anthony Anderson) and his puny sidekick Billy (Lahmard Tate), to transport and then break into the cash machine they have heisted from the Indian-owned grocery store next door to the barbershop. Featuring a great deal of physical comedy, much of it revolving around trampled feet and inadvertent fires, their escapades resemble nothing so much as a contemporary and less-funny equivalent to a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler.
Most of the film’s humor revolves around the minor tensions among the barbershop’s employees. These include Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas), a cocky college student with a propensity for showing off his knowledge; Terri (hip-hop star Eve), who must cope with an unfaithful boyfriend and the constant theft of her apple juice; Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), a sweet Nigerian who’s desperately in love with Terri; Ricky (Michael Ealy), an ex-con with two strikes against him now trying to go straight; Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), older and semiretired; and Isaac (Troy Garity), the only white barber, whose mannerisms and vocal style are blacker than the rest.
Barbershop has more than its share of cliches, both in its characterizations and its comic set pieces. The latter includes the inevitable riffing about female booties, the impromptu dance routine to a soul classic and the by-now familiar scene in which an irate woman smashes her two-timing boyfriend’s car (at least she thinks it’s his car).
But the film also possesses a genuine sweetness and creates the sense that the characters genuinely care for one another. This feeling is well fostered by the lead performance from Ice Cube, who has never been more laid-back and appealing. It’s worth the price of admission alone just to hear this former hard-talking rapper admonish someone to “stop cussin’.” The film is entirely stolen, however, by Cedric the Entertainer, whose inspired comic riffing, no doubt much of it improvised, on subjects ranging from Rosa Parks to O.J. Simpson provides consistent hilarity. — Frank Scheck, originally published Aug. 12, 2002.