When you come back to a beloved place after many years, sometimes you find all the faces have changed and the vibe is completely different.
Not so with Ice Cube's "Barbershop." Though the third film in the franchise comes a dozen years after part two, "Barbershop: The Next Cut" is as colorful and clever as its predecessors. There are some new faces (including Common and Nicki Minaj) and new elements (an attached beauty shop), but the warm energy, subtle social commentary and big-hearted laughs are the same.
Cube returns as Calvin, proprietor of a barbershop on Chicago's South Side, where he oversees a motley crew of haircutters who spend as much time boasting and bantering as they do snipping and styling. Perpetual scene-stealer Cedric the Entertainer returns as outspoken old-timer Eddie, and Eve is back as sharp-tongued Terri, once the shop's lone female hairdresser.
But you don't need any background to be charmed by the chatter at this community hangout, where the staff has grown to include a bunch of new barbers and beauticians and the discussion subjects range from Kim Kardashian to President Obama.
The crew includes Terri's husband and Calvin's friend Rashad (Common), opinionated Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar), neurotic Jerrod (Lemorne Morris, even funnier here than on TV's "New Girl"), and man-of-many-hustles One-Stop (J.B. Smoove), who offers haircuts, health exams, fake IDs and other services from his barber chair. They share the shop with a new business partner, Angie (Regina Hall), and her team of stylists, including spandex-clad Draya (Minaj) and unlucky-in-love Bree (Margot Bingham).
Director Malcolm D. Lee and writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver develop each of these characters enough to deliver a winning ensemble comedy with multiple story lines and just the right dose of realistic drama.
Set in present-day Chicago, the film opens with Calvin's voiceover about the explosion of violence in the city. "The streets are talking," he says. "They're tired. They're angry." Chicago had the most homicides of any U.S. city last year, and it's on track to earn that sad distinction again in 2016. More than 140 people have been killed there so far this year.
Calvin worries about how the surge in violence is affecting his 14-year-old son, Jalen (Michael Rainey Jr.), who's getting into fights at school and considering joining a gang. Calvin is also concerned about the effects on his business, especially when former barber and now mayoral aide Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) tells him about a proposal to stem South Side violence by building a wall around the neighborhood.
The shop responds by sponsoring a 48-hour cease-fire. They convince two rival gang leaders, both customers, to get on board. But as a tenuous peace takes hold outside, drama continues inside the shop as Draya makes a play for Rashad and Calvin considers moving his family to a safer part of town.
Minaj is a riot as a sassy flirt whose work uniform is a skimpy bra and skin-tight leggings. Common brings the smolder as a modern man who supports his wife's career but feels frustrated at her lack of effort in the relationship. Morris is a comic highlight, as is Deon Cole, who plays Dante, a guy who hangs out at the barbershop dishing one-liners. As in past trips to the "Barbershop," Cube and Cedric the Entertainer are the heart of the story.
"The Next Cut" manages to address racism, sexism, police brutality and gang violence in a thoughtful way without being heavy-handed. It's a call for community activism balanced with plenty of playful laughs. There's also the bonus of seeing Cube bust out some dance moves and Common do an old-fashioned backspin. The two rappers also wrote a song for the film, "Real People," which plays over the closing credits.
So whether it's your first trip to Calvin's or you've got a standing appointment, it's worth stopping in for "The Next Cut."
"Barbershop: The Next Cut," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "sexual material and language." Running time: 111 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .