Ice Cube's path to `Barbershop'


Ice Cube as Calvin, right, cuts up while cutting hair in the comedy "Barbershop," which is now available on video and DVD.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 12:02 a.m.

New to video and DVD comes "Barbershop," and it's one the best movies I've seen in quite a while. But I'll get to that in a minute because right now I need to expound on the virtues of Ice Cube.

Facts

Rewind these

Barbershop EEE1/2 (three and one half Es)

Friday EEE1/2 (three and one half Es)

Next Friday EE (two Es)

NATE'S KEY:
4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch); 3 "E"s: Superior; 2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better); 1"E": Avoid (save your money)

When I think Renaissance Man, I think of Ice Cube. He started off as one of the pioneering forces of gangster rap music. He was a musician, songwriter, producer and eventually owned his own record label.

In 1991, he made the jump to acting in the excellent film "Boyz 'N the Hood" (named after a song Cube wrote years earlier).

Over the next decade, Ice Cube starred in a varied assortment of films, most of which were pretty good. Just as he did in his music career, he quickly moved to other aspects of filmmaking - writing, producing and directing.

All that said, "Barbershop" features the best performance of Cube's career.

He anchors a warm, friendly comedy about life in the inner city. This is familiar territory for him, as he co-wrote and starred in the "Friday" series, but "Barbershop" is a much more polished, mature piece of work.

Cube owns a neighborhood barbershop stocked with a hilarious group of employees, including Eve, Cedric the Entertainer and Sean Patrick Thomas (and, it turns out, he isn't the "Doogie Houser" kid). The crew is driving Cube crazy, and he impetuously decides to sell the shop to a local loan shark, which, in turn, makes him appreciate what he's lost.

The refreshing thing about "Barbershop" was its reliance on people over plot. The cast is so ingratiating, so sympathetic and real, that whenever the plot does raise its ugly head, it is more of an intrusion than anything else.

Most of the movie centers on the barbers cutting hair and talking trash to one another, and these scenes are the backbone of the film. Cedric the Entertainer is the show-stealer as old-timer Eddie, a man who knows everything yet never seems to actually cut hair.

"Barbershop" was a movie made with love and affection for its characters and setting. It seemed obvious most of the people on screen were based on real folks, and this touch makes "Barbershop" a great movie.

The highest praise I can give is this: You will have fun watching "Barbershop," and really, what more do you want from a movie?

"Friday" has a sense of the love and affection for the ghetto, but it tends to display it with bathroom humor and rampant drug use. That works fine for some (myself included, as I think bathroom humor should be an Olympic event), but it definitely won't play as well in the sticks.

Ice Cube produced and co-wrote "Friday" and stars alongside comedic whirlwind Chris Tucker ("Friday" was made long before Tucker met Jackie Chan and lost his mind).

It deals with the events of a particularly busy Friday in the ghetto. Cube has lost his job, Tucker's character Smokey has smoked up the stash of a local drug dealer, and neighborhood bully Debo is cruising for people to mug.

That's all you get plotwise. There is a pretty girl Cube pursues and a final showdown with the bully that wraps everything up, but "Friday" is content to just let the characters play off of each other.

They don't really need to do anything; they're funny as they are.

Much like "Barbershop," the strength of "Friday" is the familiarity the filmmakers have with the characters. Sure, I don't know a weed-smoking, skirt-chasing preacher, but the movie makes it seem like I've known him all my life.

"Friday" rings true and is a personal favorite in my collection.

"Next Friday," also co-written and produced by Cube, isn't bad for a sequel, but it really doesn't match the other films mentioned here. Tucker has been replaced with Mike Epps, and Cube is moved from the ghetto to the suburbs to hide from that rascally Debo.

The supporting cast is very funny, and the jokes keep coming at a fast enough pace to make this a good sequel. But all in all, "Next Friday" doesn't have the genuine nature of the original.

Ice Cube has done a remarkable amount of good work in 10 years, and based on "Barbershop," it seems like he has yet to reach his full potential.

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