As strange as it may seem, an entire subgenre of black film can be traced to Joel Schumacher, the flashy hack behind such high-gloss, low-substance, whitebread fare as St. Elmo's Fire and Batman & Robin. Schumacher wrote the screenplay for 1976's delightful Car Wash, which became the template for 1995's Friday and last year's abysmal semi-remake The Wash. Like those films, Barbershop borrows Car Wash's 24-hour timeframe, brassy ensemble cast, and prominent soundtrack. But where lesser Car Wash progeny only incorporate their predecessor's most obvious elements, Barbershop replicates the intangible qualities that made it special: its sunny spirit, stellar supporting cast, and surprising sociological savvy. Perhaps the most wholesome endeavor ever to bear Ice Cube's name, Barbershop takes place largely over the course of an eventful day at the titular locale, which functions as a business, a parlor room, and a community center. As the owner and proprietor of the barbershop, Ice Cube serves as the film's solid moral center, with a dizzying variety of supporting characters in his orbit. A refreshingly class-conscious comedy-drama that refuses to talk down to its audience, Barbershop tackles serious issues (assimilation, reparations, class conflict) without reducing its characters to mouthpieces for differing viewpoints. Much of the credit belongs to the director, music-video veteran Tim Story, who does a terrific job juggling multiple subplots and a sprawling, uniformly fine cast while maintaining a breezy pace. Screenwriters Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd don't downplay the sociological and societal forces affecting their characters' lives and choices, but still find time for slice-of-life comedy and entertaining digressions. A celebration of the power and strength of community, Barbershop treats nearly all of its characters with respect and dignity, turning stock types that urban comedies generally portray as boobs—particularly an Indian shopkeeper and a white barber immersed in black culture—into real people rather than walking punch lines. Barbershop's entire cast deserves praise for its deft ensemble work, but Cedric The Entertainer nearly steals the film with a hilarious turn as an iconoclastic ghetto philosopher with novel theories on everything from Rosa Parks' actual historical significance to the proper way to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. He draws many of Barbershop's biggest laughs with his revisionist take on black history, but he also disperses a good deal of common-sense wisdom without coming across as didactic. Where Cube serves as Barbershop's moral and narrative focal point, Cedric The Entertainer is its cantankerous but oversized heart.
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