By Kerry Birmingham   Published Sep 13, 2002 at 5:04 AM

"Barbershop" is likely to take some people by surprise. A slice-of-life comedy in the mold of many others, the film somehow skirts a thin line between between raucous irreverence and wholesome sincerity, and manages to overcome the limitations of its own formula to offer a winning combination of broad comedy and unpretentious social commentary.

Taking place over the course of a single day, "Barbershop" stars Ice Cube, far from his usual film persona, as Calvin, owner of a small barbershop in inner city Chicago. With a pregnant wife and a property tax on his shop he can't hope to pay, Calvin is faced with the difficult decision of selling his barbershop to an unscrupulous local loan shark (Keith David).

First opened by Calvin's grandfather, the barbershop has become a hub of neighborhood activity, offering jobs to an eccentric group of barbers (including rapper Eve and scene-stealing Cedric the Entertainer) and hosting an eclectic parade of oddballs and deadbeats throughout the course of any given day.

This particular any given day, however, is a little different -- the hijacking of a neighborhood ATM machine by thugs sets events into motion that have a profound effect on Calvin and the barbershop that has become so important to the community.


Though the outcome of the story is never really in question, it's the getting there that is the focus of the film. "Barbershop," from the producers of "Soul Food," has enough good sense to temper its rampant comedy -- mostly slapstick, with some insults and malapropisms thrown in courtesy of Cedric the Entertainer -- with a genuine heart and no-frills satire.

The barbers themselves, a collection of stereotypes that could easily descend into parody, instead offer a mostly balanced of view of being a minority in America; the film doesn't flinch from addressing issues like crime, poverty, and education but keeps the conflicts appropriately mellow and ultimately resolvable.

Whatever issues the characters might have, with each other and themselves, all animosity is put aside when something more important--like the fate of the barbershop -- comes along.

There's much to like about "Barbershop": it's brisk and painless, appealingly frank, and stupid in the best possible sense. It's saying something when Ice Cube, most well-known in film for the "Friday" franchise, is the most level-headed character--and it works. Mixing lowbrow farce with a kind of earnest self-awareness, "Barbershop" may not have the broad appeal of "Soul Food" but holds its own as a good-natured comedy worth watching.