BARBERSHOP 2 A cut below the rest.

Barbershop 2

dir. Sullivan

Opens Fri Feb 6

Various Theaters

Fans of rapper Ice Cube have been lamenting the truly terrible film roles he's been accepting as of late; Ghosts of Mars, Friday After Next, the excremental Torque... somebody needs to give this player some play. Happily, Barbershop 2: Back in Business returns to the doorstep of its successful predecessor, and if it ain't Hamlet--at least Cube gets to stretch his acting muscles a little.

Cube plays Calvin, who inherited the ghettorific Calvin's Barbershop in Chicago; a business overly populated with a host of eccentric characters, including the beautiful and forthright Terri (played by Eve), the African transplant Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), and the controversial crazy grandpa figure, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer). Life goes on as usual in the shop with smack-talk aplenty--but that's before the film takes a decidedly 1980s Electric Boogaloo turn. It seems that their neighborhood is being overrun with new coffee chains and franchises--including a new Supercuts-style shop directly across the street. However, this time the evil developer character isn't played by the tight-ass honky; the evil comes from within their own race in the form of a buppie looking to cash in on some cheap real estate.

This opens the door for some truly interesting barbershop debates; is gentrification okay as long as the residents are profiting from it, or do the long-term negative effects turn character-filled neighborhoods into soulless stripmalls? Regardless, this debate is quickly squashed to make room for the film's primary conflict: the survival of Calvin's Barbershop over the monolithic corporate giant, Nappy Cuts (which you have to admit, is a great name).

The original Barbershop got a lot of media juice from Cedric's character Eddie, as the sass-talking barber who refuses to pull any verbal punch. Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr... no one was safe from his barbs, and the ensuing controversy sent people to the theater in droves. Unfortunately, Barbershop 2 is sass-deficient, and to be perfectly blunt, just ain't funny. It's genial. It's good-hearted. And you like the characters. But it ain't funny.

And it doesn't have to be funny if you have the drama to back it up, but Barbershop 2 misses the boat here as well. It flits from subplot to subplot working overtime to reveal the basic dignity in each character--which is actually successful in Eddie's case--but in the end causes a bit of a structural mess.

The film sheds a keen light on the importance of history and character in a neighborhood, while tipping its hat to the complexity of gentrification. However, when you load all that stuff into a comedy, while trying to spotlight a hundred different characters? C'mon. My attention span is ready to move to a different neighborhood.