Cedric the Entertainer's performance in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" reminds audiences what every contemporary filmmaker should know by now: If you want your movie to be more funny than it ought to be, throw in an Original King of Comedy.
MGM knows this now, which explains why the Entertainer's role as Eddie, the limping, outspoken veteran barber with the salt-and-pepper Frederick Douglass 'fro, has been bulked up in this sequel to the 2002 surprise hit. (Translation: The studio didn't think white people would see the movie, too.)
This time, the movie gives his character a back story. Flashbacks explain how he got his job as the shop's resident old coot (a hilarious prologue shows it has something to do with police and stolen meat for a Fourth of July cookout). The movie even gives him a lost love (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilan), whom the septuagenarian still chases after on subway trains.
Cedric's Eddie isn't the only character the audience finds out more about. The crew behind "Barbershop 2," director Kevin Rodney Sullivan ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back") and Don D. Scott (who co-wrote the first "Barbershop"), bestows many of its characters the gift of evolution, attempting to give these cliched archetypes -- the loud, around-the-way girl, the uppity know-it-all, the thug-wannabe white boy -- the full-fledged lives they almost didn't live in the first movie.
Once again, "Barbershop 2" puts its central location on the verge of extinction as shop owner Calvin (gangsta rapper/black comedy straight man Ice Cube) has to deal with competition from an across-the-street hair salon franchise courtesy of an oily land developer (Harry Lennix). The developer is buying most of the land, turning old businesses into future Starbucks and Jamba Juice locations, and Calvin and his crew have to think up ways to keep his late father's neighborhood staple from turning into another trendy corporate outlet.
The original cast is intact, with Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Michael Ealy, Troy Garity and Leonard Earl Howze returning to take their places behind their barber chairs. (If you want to see Anthony Anderson, who played the ATM-stealing J.D. in the first "Barbershop," you'll have to wait until he appears as the black sidekick in "Agent Cody Banks 2" this year.)
Although the regulars have been given some much-needed layers, the same can't be said for a few new characters. Kenan Thompson, a player on "Saturday Night Live" and formerly on the Nickelodeon sketch show "All That," makes the best of his underdeveloped character, an annoying cousin-in-law of Calvin's who gets a chance to cut in his shop. But perhaps the most obviously out-of-place character is Gina, Calvin's ex and owner of the beauty salon next door, played by fellow hip-hopper-turned-in-demand movie star Queen Latifah. Latifah's appearance is a commercial of sorts; she'll be starring in a spin-off movie, "Beauty Shop," later in the year.
Having Latifah show up in a few brief scenes to notify audiences of the sassiness that is soon to come with her franchise movie solidifies my belief that the whole "Barbershop" story is basically a sitcom that lucked out into becoming a couple of movies. (You know UPN execs are just itching to turn "Barbershop" into a weekly sitcom on its Monday night lineup, right next to that sass train "The Parkers.")
Luckily, when a movie has someone like Cedric the Entertainer, throwing down humor and depth in all the right places, sitting through a full-length feature with a sitcom mentality isn't that much of a hassle.
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.