Sep 18, 2002 at 12:00 am
Calvin and his pretty wife are the Honeymooners of the hood. Like Ralph Kramden, Calvin believes he’s one get-rich scheme away from the high life, when he’s really one step closer to losing his shirt — or, in this case, losing his barbershop. Not appreciating the legacy his father left him in the business, Calvin sells it to Lester (Keith David), a hissing, old-school pimp-daddy version of the standard melodramatic villain. If Calvin can’t ante up the cash to buy the shop back, the whole crew will be out of a job.

Meanwhile, out on the streets two moronic crooks literally rip off (or, more accurately, rip out) an ATM. As they drag it through a silly and practically laughless subplot based on a truly stupid true crime, the philosophy, mathematics and theology of "big, fat, juicy ass" holds the floor at the barbershop.

But still there’s something remarkable going on in Barbershop. Though writer Mark Brown’s (Two Can Play That Game) characters verge on the stereotypical, he mostly manages to twist his clichés or intelligently parody them and play them off each other. Know-it-all college boy Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas) finds his intelligence challenged by Ricky (Michael Ealy), a pretty boy ex-con with two felony strikes. Then Jimmy’s criticism of what he sees as Isaac Rosenberg’s (Troy Garity) ripped-off lifestyle (referring to Jewish Isaac’s "pimped-out" ride with a "sista with a fat ass" on the passenger side) blows up in his face — and calls the concept of blackness into question.

Brown occasionally uses his characters as mouthpieces and the screen as his soapbox for proclaiming the ills — and the possible cures — of black America, as if he’s smoked and inhaled more than one Spike Lee Joint. But he obviously didn’t pass it to director Tim Story: Barbershop has nothing like Spike’s bodacious visual flair.

The voices of the Staple Singers’ ’70s R&B hit promise "I’ll Take You There" as the credits roll and Calvin closes shop in a Hollywood ending. And Barbershop opens the door into an interesting, but ultimately flawed comic portrayal of one of black America’s cultural institutions.