Tough times have never left Calvin Palmer and his barbershop on the south side of Chicago, yet he finds a way to persevere. In Barbershop: The Next Cut, Calvin (Ice Cube) now shares his business space with Angie (Regina Hall), a beautician with her own staff of stylists. An even smaller section of the shop belongs to One Stop (JB Smoove), who specializes in other popular products, and dabbles in real estate on the side. Eddie (Cedric The Entertainer) continues to work for Calvin, but he has new barbers, including Rashad (Common), who's in a relationship with Terri (Eve), who once worked there. In addition, Calvin has hired Jerrod (Lamorne Morris), a quiet and efficient hair cutter, and Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a talkative one. All of them share a concern about the wave of crime, much of which is gang related, that has plagued the south side. That concern grows for Calvin and his wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis) when gangs become acquainted with their teenage son Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.). The boy's friend Kenny (Diallo Thompson), who's also Rashad's son, has a troubled background which he hasn't put entirely behind him. These factors lead Calvin to secretly scout locations on the north side to relocate.
The trouble comes to the barbershop when Calvin and Angie inadvertently schedule rival gang members for appointments at the same time. While the members exchange words, the staff manages to otherwise keep the peace. The incident inspires Calvin to seek a show of unity for calmer heads. They get the gangs to agree to a 48-hour truce while Calvin and the others use flyers and social media to promote their marathon hair cutting and styling event. Even JD (Anthony Anderson), a former criminal turned caterer used by the shop, offers to help Calvin with his service. As that transpires, though, Calvin gets two pieces of bad news that cause him to question the purpose of his efforts.
Barbershop: The Next Cut touches on many issues, albeit on a surface level. It even gets a bit idealistic in some spots. In addition to gang violence, Calvin and his crew look at relationships and at the consequences of actions taken as a result of gang violence. Rashad, in one of the movie's substories, gets caught by Terri in a situation with stylist Draya (Nicki Minaj) that seems like cheating. They later make things worse in Terri's eyes by trying to keep their actions together covert. Jerrod laments his single status as he starts to get the attention of Bree (Margot Bingham), who works for Angie. Calvin's former employee Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas), who now works in the mayor's office, shares plans with Calvin intended to curb gang violence, but will also hurt the neighborhood economy. The movie is a good effort from director Malcolm D. Lee, but the many story lines and ensemble cast mean that fuller development of the issues is impossible. Still, Lee maintains much of the humor that made the first two entries in the series so successful. The script comes from Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, both of whom make their feature film writing debuts here.
Ice Cube, Cedric The Entertainer, and JB Smoove help to make this third installment work. The environment has always given Calvin the urge to move, yet he knows he has roots in the community that continues to support his shop. Ice Cube also gets to show his comic side in the scene where he helps Jalen, who's also a talented athlete, hone his basketball skills for his school's team. Cedric, as Eddie, may spend most of his day at the shop conversing with customers and playing jokes on Calvin, but he's never failed to appreciate the exceptional kindness that Calvin's father showed him, and Calvin himself continues to do. It's that appreciation and knack for conversation that helps Eddie offer a bit of wisdom to Calvin as the owner faces some tough times. Cedric's best moment comes in one scene, where he gets to cut the hair of a certain VIP. Smoove also brings laughs as One Stop, a salesman who aims to please, even if he can't vouch for the effectiveness of his products. I like his scene where he feels the need to explain the concept of a downpayment to Calvin. New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis makes a cameo as a customer during the promotion, and the rapper Tyga has a small role as a gang member. Besides the players already listed, other actors from previous entries who briefly return are Troy Garity as Isaac, a former barber of Calvin's who's now a customer, and Deon Cole as Dante, a regular customer to the establishment.
The Barbershop trilogy is certainly not the best film series I've seen, but it has managed to remain entertaining, in spite of writing and directing changes with each entry. Barbershop: The Next Cut may be about a specific neighborhood, but it speaks in some way to many working class neighborhoods that face struggles from day to day. Calvin Palmer has the double duty of being a business owner and a parent in a less-than-ideal atmosphere. He long ago found his passions, and he continues to deal with the good and bad that come with these passions.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Barbershop: The Next Cut three stars. Never a clip joint.