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Barbershop Deux

Seen: 2004.02.11   ¶   Reviewed: 2004.02.16

I try to watch the black movies – like gross-out comedies, they’re a genre – and can’t. I’ve tried everything. I’ve even tried the Canadian black movies, but the one and only approved black Canadian director, Clement Virgo (and remember, it’s “Clement,” not “Clement”), is a ponce and a bore.

Black movies are an anachronism now. They were a kind of failed Bizarro-world stopgap measure, a pinky in a very large dike holding back a sea of consensus-manufacturing Hollywood “product.” (Who would have known so many Americans were nubile blonde women?) Black movies never worked, there were never enough of them, and they’ve been superseded by integrated movies in which neither of the leads is white. Think of those interchangeable pictures with some black comedian or other and some Chinese martial artist or other.

The answer to an implicitly-racist decades-long flood of all-white movies isn’t a trickle of all-black movies. It’s a new kind of picture that’s multiracial, just not white. Halle Berry won her Oscar much too late.

And Barbershop 2, in true Hollywood form, gets even that concept wrong. It plugs in Isaac, a hot jewishy white barber, and Terri, a black chick with blonde hair, but does nothing but yammer about how weird it is to have a white guy in a black barbershop. Um, in what century? And anyway, Jews are surrogate blacks to such a degree that they run hiphop. (I would direct your attention to the recent article of that title in Heeb, which of course I read! I had a letter published, in fact.)

I didn’t see Barbershop (though it’s floating around on pay TV this month), but I got the general concept: There’s a loose thread of “plot” in the picture, but you show up for this one to listen to sassy anecdotes. Seems to be treading a fine line between depiction of reality and stereotype if you ask me. Would it be just as interesting if it were a bunch of white queens at a white-queen hair salon? Probably not, right? Because at least at barbershops men will be men. (Unless they’re Terri.)

Ice Cube clings to his ridiculous and outdated stage name. He isn’t fooling anybody when he gets his hair did all nice and conservative, drives a Contour, and acts out the role of a small businessman. The eyes give him away: Hard, fierce, vengeful. I totally don’t buy him as a loving father to his son. Hard, fierce, vengeful father, yes.

Lesbian actress Queen Latifah’s presence in the picture seemed like post-facto product placement. The product she placed was one of the three black movies that were advertised in the six trailers we sat through before Barbershop Deux, namely Beauty Shop.

The picture does at least dare to be situated somewhere genuine (Chicago), even if the South Side never looked so good. I always love the el; I think of it as a kind of Disney monorail run by the East Germans. I also didn’t bat an eye when Cedric the Entertainer (speaking of outdated stage names), with his Al Sharpton/Bride of Frankenstein grey roots, re-met the woman of his dreams on the el. Where the hell else are you going to meet her? That’s where you lost her in the first place! This is a movie, after all.

I must, with regret, report that I am tired of Harry Lennix playing sellout black guys. He’s cast as type: With his uneven fair skin and wavy hair, he looks unctuous in full-on bizdrag.

Kooky flub–cum–Easter egg: Isaac somehow keeps a PowerBook on a stool in the shop (I didn’t see so much as a power cord, let alone an Ethernet cable). They take a look at the Web site of Nappy Cutz (!), and onscreen, the controller for the Apple DVD Player is plainly visible next to the impossibly-clear, gigantic full-motion video.

A charmingly passé entertainment piece, this picture. But it has one very good thing about it: A bravura opening sequence (even the typography is great!) featuring stunningly-edited photojournalism of four decades of black celebrities, all lovingly, if confusingly, rendered with audio description.

Theatre experience

This was at the Paramount, where I never have any real trouble. As I’m asking the playa if he’s really not going to get us to sign in for all the reasons that will be familiar to readers of this page, he pulls out the loose-leaf page from the binder and turns it toward us on the counter. And then he tells us we can make up whatever name and phone number we want!

What is this? (Mr. Y signed in.)

A manageress comes over to unlock the closet door (still an unnecessary bottleneck) to retrieve our gear. If memory serves, this is the very same manageress who has lied to me before. She returns with six reflectors (still in tube sox) and one headset, and asks another playa to accompany us into the auditorium to make sure everything’s satisfactory. No, we’re capable of inspecting the reflectors here, I tell her. Is this new procedure? I ask. No, she says. Well, how long have you been doing that? Oh, I always do it on my shifts, she says, and I positively ID her as that same manageress. Is there anything this woman won’t say?

I ask if they’ve had any training on the Privacy Act from head office. Nope. I recount what the other playa did. Oh, I’ll have to speak to him about that, she said. No, I told her, that won’t be necessary. I then re-posed the question. No, she replied, nobody’s come down here to talk to us about that. Or phoned or E-mailed? I asked. She shook her head.

Well, well, well.

Anyway, off we went. Standing at the bottom of the inside stairs was a frankly old woman with a frankly young man (I infer nothing). She peered up at the display and tried to read it. “Welcome to Real... Welcome to Rear Win—” Her companion interrupted: “So it is for deaf people.” Very smart. Of course, we were walking right by them with scythe-like reflectors in hand at that very millisecond.

Mr. X observed drily: “Because deaf people can all read in mirrors.”

Caption quality

Tiny glitch: The first caption of the movie – the MGM lion (roars) – appeared before the movie started, then again at the right moment.

( pager beeping ): This isn’t TV. We don’t put spaces inside parens (a relic of the italic toggle in Line 21).

(speaking native language): We’re all natives of somewhere, but Samir is Indic, not (an) Indian (Indians are native to America, as are Inuit, I suppose). He was probably uttering a benediction in Hindi.

Yeah, yeah, no this is: Did we run out of commas?

Terrible break:

looking like a God
damn fool in your shop today

You have son, don’t you, Calvin? “No tickee, no shirtee”?

Montgomery Wards is possessive.

not $2.00 coffees and $20.00 mugs: We don’t write the decimal and zeroes.

(slinky bass line plays): I guess.

I would like to know what the hell is going on at the Caption Center

What, are we hiring teenyboppers out of AOL chatrooms now?

Description quality

Something I noticed about DVS description on The Bernie Mac Show, which I’ve only watched a couple of times: They use a subtly but detectably black narratrix. For a while I thought she was related to one of the show’s producers. I kind of think that’s true: Isn’t narratrix Leilani Jones-Wilmore married to Larry Wilmore?

Anyway, for the black studio movie released in Black History Month, black narratrix Leilani Jones-Wilmore is used. I’ve always thought she was excellent.

Now, you will of course recall my years of complaints that all actors are presumed to be white unless explicitly named otherwise. And DVS can’t even just call people “black”; they get to be “dark-skinned” (though Orientals, Indics, and some other groups can also be “dark-skinned”). Consistent with the Bizarro world of black movies, here everyone is assumed to be black unless otherwise stated: “A white cop slams a black man into the car.” Well, he has to be a black man! Everyone else is.

Concise (possibly too concise) handling of the film’s transitions to and from black-and-white, with some wardrobe still in colour: “Loretta’s stylish dress colourizes vividly.”

Yet again, the very first two sentences of description (studio bumpers) begin with “Now.”

“Calvin steps in front of his burly coworker.” White guys are “flabby” and black guys are “burly”? (DVS used that term in Red Dragon.) Meanwhile, lesbian actress Queen Latifah is “a full-figured woman.” Not burly or flabby at all. Admittedly, I suppose I’m piling on (the pounds?).

Oh, and speaking of lesbian actress Queen Latifah? “She slides her tongue near the V-shape of an open flatiron.” Later, a painting “depicts a flower’s labia.” Yes, that’s what I heard.

“And climbs behind the wheel of a convertible”: It’s a Boxster.

“Eddie sees a foxy, middle-aged commuter.” She’s a woman and she indeed is. But can we say “foxy” outside of black movies? (Later: “The foxy middle-aged woman approaches.”)

“The guys tap fists”: They don’t quite knock fists.

I seem to recall a DX in another movie in which an actor “mimes a phone.” Here, “Kenard holds his pinkie and thumb to his head like a phone.” Oh, but wait: “He frowns, then mimes a phone with his hand.”

Calvin’s “sporty coupe” is a dead-boring Ford Contour.

“And Isaac paces near the Apple laptop.”

Barbers “drape aprons across their customers.” Previously they were “smocks.”

End credits begin with “Remaining opening titles.” Only five songs were DXed out of about 20, of necessity, really.


No problems.

Exit interview


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