Barbershop: The Next Cut achieves a nice blend

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      Starring Ice Cube. Rated PG. Now playing.

      As an actor for hire, Ice Cube lends his memorable scowl to pictures that need a black man to look angry. As a producer under his Cube Vision aegis, Cube develops broad comedies veined with positive messages, and makes them franchises, because he also likes money.

      If the Ride Along series is his action spoof, Barbershop is his sitcom: virtually all of the action takes place on a single set, a vintage haircutting joint in South Side, Chicago, populated by a variety of continuously riffing cutups like Cedric the Entertainer’s contrarian Eddie and J.B. Smoove as the frenetically hustling One-Stop. It’s also Cube’s most political franchise. There’s stuff going on under the jokes. While the first Barbershop dealt with family legacy and the second with gentrification, the third is about sex and crime.

      To make ends meet, Calvin (Cube) has diversified the shop with female staff and customers, leading to jokes about gender and an illicit flirtation between coworkers Rashad and Draya (Common and Nicki Minaj). Meanwhile, Calvin and Rashad find their friendship and parenting skills coming under scrutiny, due to the trouble that their teenage sons are getting into at their school. The toughness, loyalty, and cash of the gang lifestyle is calling to the boys, and their dads feel helpless to prevent it.

      Is this a preachy movie? In some ways, yes. The Next Cut also feels stagey, talky, and, under the direction of Malcolm D. Lee, sentimental, and none of those things is usually a compliment. But it also feels alive and true. Despite its grim plot hooks, the jokes mostly land. And as with Richard Linklater’s new movie, it’s super pleasant and comforting to be plunged into a group of people who don’t necessarily (or usually) agree, but who have each other’s backs. They’re friends.