The pointed, no-taboos banter that was the soul of 2002's surprise hit "Barbershop" gets the short shrift in the entertaining but too-cursory sequel "Barbershop 2: Back in Business."
Similarly funny and socially aware -- the plot this time involves a battle against cavalier gentrification -- this flick once again features Ice Cube (in another sincere and satisfying performance) as shop owner Calvin Palmer, who has grown into a casually strong community pillar, and Cedric The Entertainer, back in fine form as Eddie, the titular tonsorial's controversy-stirring motor-mouthed muckraker.
But the continuing penchant for pointless subplots overtakes this picture's sense of self. "Barbershop" was padded with just one clumsy, slapsticky secondary storyline, about a pair of bungling small-time criminals trying to rid themselves of a stolen ATM machine. But "Barbershop 2" is over-padded with arbitrary, unconvincing sexual tension between reformed angry-thug barber Ricky (Michael Ealy) and reformed spitfire stylist Terri (rapper/actress Eve), and a 1960s backstory for Eddie that, while well written and socially relevant, has no bearing on the present. All this works to the detriment of the ruthlessly funny repartee that was the essence of the original.
More important themes of the central story get their due in a pragmatic portrayal of personal integrity struggling against back-room politics as Calvin's shop on Chicago's South Side is threatened by a trendy men's salon opening across the street as part of a corporate chain-store "revitalization" of the neighborhood.
Director Kevin Rodney Sullivan ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back") also gives the film a nicely polished style and rhythm, employing sped-up aerial zooms to provide a sense of the story's geography as it moves from, say, the barbershop to an elevated train to Calvin's apartment.
But when a movie incorporates a new character just to set up a spin-off movie ("Beauty Shop" starring Queen Latifah coming soon to a theater near you!), it simply doesn't have its priorities straight.
"Barbershop 2" is not a bad movie. I enjoyed it and readily recommend it to anyone who liked the first picture. It's just a little disappointing that the sequel not only has the same shortcomings as its predecessor, but also lets those shortcomings propagate until they encroach on the verbal jousting that should have been this movie's best strength.