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‘Barbershop 2’ cuts the right way

When it sticks to what worked in the original film, it succeeds. By John Hartl

Produced for a pittance, the original “Barbershop” grossed $75 million in late 2002. A sequel pulling the cast back together was inevitable, though there’s a different director this time (Kevin Rodney Sullivan has replaced Tim Story), and Queen Latifah turns up working for a neighboring Chicago beauty salon.

Also new to the sequel,  “Barbershop 2: Back in Business,” are several flashbacks to the 1960s, including a disorienting opening scene set in the summer of 1967 and a very small-scale recreation of the riots that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination. None of this really adds much aside from a level of preachiness that was blessedly missing from the original.

As for Queen Latifah, her character is so peripheral that she just seems to be plugging her spin-off movie, “Beauty Shop,” which MGM is promising to open soon, as yet another kind of sequel. Why not throw in her missing number and other cutting-room-floor footage from “Chicago,” which would at least give her something to do?

Don D. Scott, co-writer of the original, takes solo credit for the script, though he’s still working with characters created by Mark Brown. The new movie’s strongest asset is the sense of community that united the people in the original.

Calvin (Ice Cube), the barbershop’s owner, is once again faced with money troubles. An expensive competing franchise, Nappy Cutz Salons, is opening across the street and threatening to take away his customers. Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas), Calvin’s most pretentious employee, has now become a smoothie politician. Terri (Eve), his stylish hair-cutter, is once more looking for love in all the least likely places. Isaac (Troy Garity), the Jewish barber who really wants to be black, is as uppity as ever.

Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the contrarian barber who infamously trashed Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson in the first “Barbershop,” while claiming that “O.J. did it,” is now outraging the customers by comparing the D.C. sniper with Jackie Robinson. Some people never change — which is, of course, the point.

As long as the movie is putting these characters through their familiar paces, it’s a perfectly acceptable sequel. Whenever it starts throwing in distressingly meaningful black-and-white flashbacks to earlier times, it threatens to disintegrate. Most annoying is Sullivan’s nervous use of handheld cameras in the opening scenes.

Two set pieces stand out: an illegal night-time trip through Nappy Cutz, where Calvin and his envious barbers get carried away with the high-tech set-up, and a corrupt black politician’s hysterically chaotic visit to Calvin Jr.’s Barbershop, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong — while television cameras pick it all up.

The actors, who generated such a strong sense of community in the first film, are even more secure in their roles this time. Ice Cube, whose character has become slightly domesticated, has never looked more confident. That goes for most of the holdovers from the first film. What’s unnecessary is the sense of historical and cultural significance, which was understood in the first “Barbershop,” and overblown in “Barbershop 2.”