Though not entirely successful at fusing all its parts, Barbershop: The Next Cut deserves credit for not straining to provide non-stop laughs to audiences that visit the Chicago-based barbershop in which most of the movie takes place.
Twelve years after release of the first sequel to the 2002 original, this new version launches a full-frontal attack on gun violence in Chicago's South Side. Spike Lee tackled this subject in last year's Chi-raq, but Barbershop approaches it in a way that's more conventional, but no less heartfelt.
Ice Cube, who's also one of the film's producers, reprises his role as barbershop owner Calvin Palmer. During recent hard times, Calvin was forced to take in a partner (Regina Hall).
The result: Half of the barbershop -- once a sacred male preserve -- is now a beauty salon for women.
From the start, the characters make it clear that they're working in an embattled neighborhood where the sound of gunshots has become common place. The neighborhood death toll is ever-present in the minds of South Siders, who feel helpless to do anything about the city's rampant gang violence.
Director Malcolm D. Lee has set himself a difficult task. He tries to address Chicago's problems while not shortchanging the part of the audience that has come for a solid shot of escapist entertainment.
To this end, we meet Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), a long-time veteran of the shop who hardly ever seems to cut anyone's hair. J.B. Smoove joins the movie as One-Stop, an all-purpose entrepreneur who operates out of the shop. You need it? One-Stop will help you find it. Lamorne Morris portrays Jerrod, the nerd of the group, and Utkarsh Ambudkar appears as Raja, the Indian barber and resident outsider.
On the female side of the room, we find Draya (Niki Minaj), a beautician who has eyes for Rashad (Common). This does not please Rashad's wife (Eve), and leads to yet another subplot.
A more affecting subplot involves Calvin's son (Michael Rainey, Jr..), a high school kid who may be thinking about joining a gang.
The movie's high point arrives when Calvin decides that the neighborhood needs a 48-hour truce. To encourage a violence-free weekend, the shop offers free cuts.
Deeply conflicted, Calvin also contemplates moving to the city's north side, where he can operate his business without the distraction of small arms fire and ensure his son's safety.
OK, Barbershop: The Next Cut won't be confused with a masterpiece. We hardly get to know the promising teen whose murder prompts the truce, and the gags hit home with intermittent accuracy.
But a game cast keeps the movie watchable, and there's no denying The Next Cut has something on its mind, which is more than you can say for most recent comedies.