***.1 GM
Starring: Ice Cube, Cedric The Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Anthony Anderson, Keith David, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, Lahmard Tate


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When I first heard of Cedric The Entertainer, I scoffed - the natural reaction, I believe, to anyone with the audacity to name themselves such a thing. Much like "Amazing Larry," "Butch The Interesting" or "Smoove B, Love Man," anyone putting desired personal qualities into their professional name simply offer themselves up for some derisive comments and snarky zingers. Luckily for Ced, though, he's actually entertaining. Being the funniest member of the Original Kings of Comedy is a good sign.

The story is thus: Ice Cube is Calvin, a half-assed entrepreneur who spends his post-businss-failure days running the Chicago barbershop that's been in his family for generations and is a haven for the black community - where the usual gang o' regulars hangs out, bullshits and waxes philosophical. There's the snotty education-makes-me-better guy (Thomas), the white guy that lives black (Garity), the hard-as-nails only woman in the place (Eve), the two-strike felon trying to straighten his life out (Ealy), the hefty African immigrant in love with the gal (Howze) and, of course, Entertaining Cedric as the grizzled old school barber what worked with Calvin's dad, complete with an insane Frederick Douglass hairstyle and a slurry old-guy voice. Then Calvin short-sightedly sells the shop to a loanshark (the always-wonderful Keith David) to pay off the crushing debt before realizing its value to the community. Thus he spends the day stuggling to get it back, which ain't easy. There's also a subplot where Anthony Anderson and Lahmard Tate are bumbling idiots who stole an ATM from a shop across the street and spend the day trying and failing to crack it open.

This is a simple slice-of-life story, really - a day in the barbershop and why people like to be there and what it means to folks - and damn if'n it don't make ya wanna hang out there, too. Cedric The Amusing brings the best stuff, too, as you might expect of the grizzled old veteran who doesn't give a rat's ass what he says and how people take it. Be it from waking up in the middle of a fight and quickly rushing to get his razors so he can "cut somebody" or spouting off on stuff that is going to get the most audience reaction - namely saying "Rosa Parks didn't do nothin' but sit her tired ass down" and justifying it by saying she wasn't the first black person to refuse to move to the back of the bus - Cedric The Comical quickly becomes the guy whose comments you can't wait to hear as soon as a new subject is brought up. The funniest ideas are often the ones that everyone else in the world disagrees with.

You don't often see positive, easygoing and dare I say heartwarming tales of the black community, which makes this refreshing and interesting, even if some of the characters are a little too neatly defined and categorized. It's often stylized gangsta shit, the fighting of the power or "comedies" about men fighting their nature to be 'dogs' and the women who change them, all of which can be really good, but they can also be really tiring to watch once you've seen them a few times. What cuts this above an after-school special kind of movie is that it's actively funny - at least when it centers around the shop. The ATM criminal storyline is a bit overdone with the lame slapstick, and you can see the point of it all coming a mile away, but it makes for a happy ending, so you can't dislike it too much. Anthony Anderson is an amusing chap, as well, despite his iffy material.

All in all, this movie creates a really good feeling of community and giving a shit about each other, and I dig that. Also, it's rare that I've seen a movie that creates a reason within the story for a PG-13 rating: Calvin has a "no-cussing" rule in the shop, so everybody has to censor themselves of harsher language. That's right, Ice Cube plays a man who doesn't allow swear words. That's funny.

As an aside, I'll take this paragraph to explain why I really don't like to use "African-American," in case you've noticed. For one thing, it sounds patronizing when used - whenever the choice is made to use a seven-syllable word instead of one-syllable, it either smacks of pretention or a desperate fear of being considered offensive. Secondly, it's not even really accurate. If P.W. Botha moved to America, he'd be African-American. If Lennie James from Snatch moved to America, he'd be British-American, but everyone would think he was African-American due to the color of his skin. So maybe he'd be an African-British-American. I'm not one of those guys that really gets pissed off about political correctness - at its core, the idea is just to be sensitive and thoughtful about people - but "African-American" always feels forced to me. Heck, I'd rather not even use "black." As a child, I remember being very frustrated because I couldn't figure out why we were called white people and they were called black people when, according to my 64 Crayolas, we were more like peach and brown. I tend to think George Carlin has the right idea on this - in "Braindroppings," he puts forth the proposition that it became 'black and white' instead of 'pink and brown' because black and white are opposites and can't ever come together, but pink and brown might just be able to blend a bit, and white guys can't handle that. Ain't that some sad shit.

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