- Cube plays it clean as Calvin, his first grown-up role.
Finally playing a grown-up -- Cube's 33 and a family man, yet he's made an acting career of portraying people who either live at home or are college-age -- AmeriKKKa's former most-wanted plays Calvin, a father-to-be with more harebrained, get-rich-quick schemes than Homer Simpson. What he doesn't seem to realize is that he has a perfectly good and honest profession as proprietor of the neighborhood barbershop, inherited from his father along with a bushel of debt that might be paid off if Calvin's spare cash didn't go toward reckless investments. So when the bank threatens to repossess the store, Calvin happily signs over the place to a neighborhood loan shark (Keith David) for 20 grand, only to realize immediately that he just lost the best thing he ever had when it turns out that the menacing dandy plans to turn the place into a barber-themed strip club.
Meanwhile, there's a parallel plot line in which two inept thugs (Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate) steal an ATM from the aforementioned immigrant grocery store, only to spend most of the movie unsuccessfully trying to crack it open (and we know something they don't -- it's a brand-new machine that contains no money). Anderson steals the show, as always, proving himself to be a physical comedian as well as a talented improviser, spending much of the flick with a silly walk that would make John Cleese proud. Though he seems contractually obliged to be the comic relief in every black ensemble movie ever made, someone needs to nullify that clause and get this man his own movie.
It's always a pleasure to see Anderson onscreen, and it's certainly laudable that the movie deals with hot-button issues in a comedic context, but Barbershop isn't as funny as it should be. Cedric's speech impediment only takes him so far -- he's actually funnier in Serving Sara, without having to rely on a big wig to do his acting for him. Similarly, a jokey African character (newcomer Leonard Earl Howze) falls flatter than he should, with an over-the-top reggae accent that grates. While it's certainly notable that he's a sensitive nebbish, thereby perhaps undermining so many noble-savage stereotypes, he seldom comes off as more than a David Alan Grier wannabe with a fake voice.
Other cast members fare better. As the object of Howze's affections, rapper Eve dresses down from her MTV look and still manages to be smokin' hot and hard-edged; the normally foul-mouthed Cube even has to admonish her to "Stop cussin', this ain't Def Comedy Jam!" Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance) gracefully straddles the fine line between obnoxious and endearing as the intellectual Larry Elder-in-training, though a scene where he pretentiously orders an elaborate coffee drink from Starbucks is a hoary joke that's been done to death ever since L.A. Story. And as the apparent would-be black rapper, whitey Troy Garity (son of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda) brings a humanity to his caricature that may ensure him the Michael Rappaport role in every Spike Lee film from here on out. It's a running gag throughout the movie that the customers prefer any black barber, no matter how incompetent, to this white Jew, so when he finally gets to speak his mind near the movie's end, he may as well be addressing the audience's preconceptions, as well as those of the other characters -- who naturally relent.