Hollywood has squeezed out dozens of scrappy ”urban” comedies over the last couple of decades. If you were to make the suggestion that one of them (”Mo’ Money”? ”Big Momma’s House”?) be turned into a Broadway play, you might get stared at as if you had left your senses behind. Yet it’s a testament to the easygoing razzmatazz banter of Barbershop 2: Back in Business that the movie, without much adjustment, could probably work just fine on stage. The characters in Calvin’s barbershop on the South Side of Chicago still get in each other’s faces, yet the taunts, challenges, and barber-chair philosophy fly with an abandon that works as pure, spirited verbal play. Your ears really have to pay attention (a fun thing to do at the movies, it turns out). The more the screen is layered with insults, the more you feel the deep-dish affection that holds the room together.
”Barbershop 2” is smart enough to hook us with the best thing it has going: Cedric the Entertainer’s gruffly uproarious and lived-in performance as Eddie, the aging relic of the soul-man ’60s (in flashback, he looks like a runt member of the Spinners) whose topsy-turvy folk wisdom proved, in ”Barbershop,” that a black man can still court controversy simply by speaking his mind. With his Frederick Douglass hair, too-much-Popeyes physique, and mumbly delivery that avoids as many consonants as possible (entire sentences roll out as if they were one giant elastic word), Eddie is a loafer who won’t change his ways, yet he’s at once the most harmless and most aggressive figure in the joint. In ”Barbershop 2,” he follows up his previous naughty riffs on Rosa Parks with a few pithy thoughts on the D.C. sniper, whom he calls ”the Jackie Robinson of crime” (for having broken into the ”white league” of homicide that has no self-benefit), and he just goes on from there.
Ice Cube, with his charismatic scowl, is back as Calvin, the shop’s owner and wary center of gravity, and he has also now taken on the role of coexecutive producer. With the ”Friday” series, ”The Players Club,” and now this pleasingly rambunctious ”Barbershop” sequel, Ice Cube has evolved his own backlot genre: movies that respect the dailiness of inner-city life. There may not be much on the page to characters like Ricky (Michael Ealy), the natty shop stud, or Isaac (Troy Garity), the token white barber who can hone the sharpest fade, or Kenard (Kenan Thompson), whose eagerness to show off his skills leads to one disastrous haircut, yet the actors anchor the film with their live-on-the-spot rhythms. The story, such as it is, centers on the impending arrival of a Nappy Cutz franchise across the street, and if that sounds like a rote battle between corporate commerce and the little guy, ”Barbershop 2” is the rare film to evoke what can’t be replaced about a local business. It pays more than lip service to the glories of lip service.