I witnessed this act of racism play out 30 minutes before watching Barbershop: A Fresh Cut, which itself took place two days after a shooting in Orlando claimed countless innocent lives. The film – which tackles issues such as sexism, racism, politics and more in liberating, but no less hard-hitting fashion – feels especially powerful this week.
A Fresh Cut is the third entry in the Barbershop series after the 2002 original and 2004’s Barbershop 2: Back in Business and it centres on Ice Cube’s Calvin, a barbershop owner in Chicago. While the shop is still the perfect place for playful conversation – even more so thanks to the females in the beauty salon next door owned by Angie (Regina Hall) – the surrounding community has become increasingly dangerous, with gang shootings forcing Calvin to contemplate moving his business to a safer location to protect his family. Meanwhile, Calvin’s son (Michael Rainey Jr.) is considering joining one of those said gangs, and married couple Rashad (Common) and Terri (Eve) try and work their way through some trust issues.
Some of those storylines are quite predictable – the strained marriage subplot even feels a little contrived and unnecessary at times – but even though you know which notes are coming the film still hits them with verve. Scenes between fathers and sons and rival gang members alike crackle with tension, and the excellent ensemble cast play off each other well. That’s especially clear when actors like Cedric the Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Lamorne Morris and others flex their comedic muscles, and A Next Cut is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
Crucially that humour never undercuts the seriousness of the issues being discussed, and the spot-on tone is a credit to the strong screenplay by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver as well as Malcolm D. Lee’s equally focused direction. Indeed, while A Next Cut covers a lot of ground, debates about hot topics such as how effective President Obama’s time in office has been to what men want from women and vice versa feel well-serviced, and they often don’t yield easy answers.
However, what really makes this latest trip to the Barbershop a cut above most comedies is that it manages to be both powerful and timely, without being preachy. While the cast of the film is predominantly black there’s many hopeful messages for everyone to be found everywhere, not least of which is the fact that that Calvin and co have accepted Indian-American barber Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar) as one of their own. In a world where certain individuals don’t even feel comfortable getting served a burger by an Asian fast-food worker, that’s one lesson that should not go unheeded.