Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) is a natural entrepreneur. He is always thinking of new “ventures.” Calvin has inherited a barbershop from his father, who had inherited the same shop from his father. Unlike his pregnant wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis), Calvin doesn’t see the value of the shop at the beginning of the movie. Much like the young George Bailey (the main character of It’s a Wonderful Life who also inherits a business from his father), Calvin seems to want to get out on his own and escape his own personal “Bedford Falls.” However, there is a major difference between Calvin’s Chicago neighborhood and George’s. Calvin’s neighborhood seems more like a further degraded “Pottersville” with his barbershop being an “oasis in the desert.”
The movie begins with thieves, J.D. and Billy (Anthony Anderson, Lahmard J. Tate), rather dramatically, but also showing a substantial lack of competence, breaking into and stealing the new ATM from a convenience store on the same block as the barbershop. Those thieves provide a counterpoint to the generally admirable characters who gather or work at the barbershop. The barbershop characters are intelligent and decent. In contrast, the thieves are neither. The situations at the Barbershop are based in seemingly normal experience where the antics of J.D. and Billy are comical and often stupid.
Calvin has back taxes to pay on the barbershop or he faces foreclosure. He hopes to get out of that situation by entering into a deal with a “loan shark” Lester Wallace (Keith David), in which he sells his shop. After entering that deal he starts to see the value of the barbershop to his employees, family and other members of his community. Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) is particularly skillful at pointing out to Calvin the value of the barbershop, as well as making other salient points which may resonate with viewers. As Eddie says: “This is the barbershop! The place where a black man means something! Cornerstone of the neighborhood! Our own country club! I mean, can't you see that?” Calvin tries to keep his barbershop by attempting to cancel the deal with the “loan shark” but finds it is a deal not easily canceled.
Barbershop’s storyline is not complex although it is illuminating and entertaining. The greatest strengths of this movie are in the characters who populate the shop. Besides Calvin and Eddie, there are: Terri (Eve) -- a female barber; Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) -- a black African barber, who likes Terri; Ricky (Michael Ealy) -- a two-time felon, to whom Calvin extends another chance; Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) -- the “educated” barber; and Isaac (Troy Garity) -- the only “white” barber. That makes quite a large staff for the shop. Their relationships and interaction form most of the body of the movie. Each is a strong individual and that aspect of their characters is celebrated in Barbershop.
There are several attributes of this movie which make it quite different from It’s a Wonderful Life. There is no supernatural influence in Barbershop. There are more strong characters in Barbershop. Bedford Falls is a very “white” setting. In contrast, the south side of Chicago is not. Barbershop has much more comedy, but still has a serious message about individuality and community. If you are looking for a solid positive message about people making lives in a community, delivered with style and humor, Barbershop should fit your needs very well.