Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) inherits a barbershop from his father that has served as the emotional cornerstone of his community for many years. In addition to being the home away from home for customers, the barbershop also employs an interesting variety of men and one woman who represent a cross-section of black America: Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) is a stand-up philosopher who treasures the old days and picks on the current generation; Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) is articulate and educated but painfully condescending; Isaac (Troy Garity) is a not-too-popular white barber who would give anything just to have a customer; Ricky (Michael Ealy) is a sensitive ex-con trying to go straight; Terri (Eve) is a beautiful, sexy woman losing patience with the boyfriend who loves to two-time her; and Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) is a shy Nigerian gentleman in love with poetry in general and Terri in particular.

The predictable dilemma in Barbershop is whether the local loan shark, Lester (Keith David), will take over this cozy but struggling business and turn it into a brothel. Not if Calvin can help it...and not if there's a ridiculous plot device available to the scriptwriters to ensure his victory. Sadly, the writing fails to achieve the dramatic and comedic possibilities of the movie's premise. The flatly written screenplay by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd contains hardly any surprises, and those it offers are in poor taste--i.e., a tirade by Eddie that belittles Rosa Parks while smearing other civil-rights heroes.

The subplot, in which JD (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Lahmard Tate), attempt to break into an impregnable ATM they have stolen is more labored than the construction of the pyramids and just about as unfunny. Again and again, director Tim Story cuts from multiple storylines to the two men wasting their--and our--time trying to open a mute machine that is cashless in the first place. These regurgitated sequences are complete with jokes that were old when Sisyphus started rolling his big boulder up a hill. The film finally jerks to a halt with an ending both flat and pat that demonstrates embarrassing paucity of wit.

Barbershop is an unfortunate waste of a promising ensemble. Although Ice Cube phones in his performance and Troy Garity (Jane Fonda's son in real life) seems to be doing a bad imitation of Vin Diesel, there is plenty of smart acting here: Jazsmin Lewis, David, Ealy, Eve and Howze bring considerable charm to threadbare characters--and give us a taste of what might have been.

-Bruce Feld