The Barber Fails to Make the Cut

I had high hopes for The Barber when it was announced as the first movie made by Chapman Filmed Entertainment, the private Orange university film school's independent production company.

The feature-length directorial debut of Basel Owies (class of 2010) had going for it veteran actor Scott Glenn in the title role, the brain trust of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts behind it, and a worldwide distribution deal with a company whose high-quality projects include Tsotsi, The Last Station and It Might Get Loud.

Sadly, The Barber does not make the cut.

Opening Friday at AMC Orange—as well as in nine other cities and on video-on-demand—the revenge thriller is not horrible. You could do worse when it comes to violent indie dramas that roll on cable movie channels during your weekend nap on the sofa. What The Barber has in common with similar genre pictures are predictability, clichéd characters and crumbling third acts.

Glenn is small-town barber Eugene Van Wingerdt, who is beloved by neighbors, customers and the police chief (another veteran actor, Stephen Tobolowsky). But Van Wingerdt may also be a dormant serial killer whose secret is known by John McCormack (Chris Coy, who had multiple-episode roles on cable's True Blood, Treme and The Walking Dead). McCormack is a Chicago cop and son of the late police detective who had been obsessed with proving Van Wingerdt was his serial-killer suspect, but he could not make charges stick. The obsession is inherited by the younger McCormack, who wins the confidence of the lonely barber in an attempt to uncover the truth.

Their battle of wits becomes the crux of The Barber, which would have been improved greatly by a few more rewrites of the script—by longtime television writer Max Enscoe, Chris Frazier (class of '08) and Charlie Frazier—to stretch the mystery and temper the ultra-violence.

Tobolowsky and especially Glenn rise above the material they have been given. With his stern, wrinkly face, stoic demeanor and manufactured amble, Glenn keeps you invested in a story that does not reward the viewer with a satisfying payoff. Indeed, he and Tobolowsky are the only actors we see onscreen in tune with the delicate tone that is required in a movie that should straddle a straight razor's edge of dark menace and black comedy.

Olivia Taylor Dudley and Kristen Hager fill one-note roles as a waitress at a greasy spoon and McCormack's police partner/main squeeze, respectively. We have come to a moment in cinematic history when it takes you out of a picture to witness young women who are as attractive as they are working as waitresses at diners and as big-city police detectives. I suppose it could happen, somewhere, but it happens so often in low-budget flicks such as this that it's a cliché of a cliché.

Of course, hot chicks, violent beatings and buckets of blood sell, perhaps even more internationally than here in the States. The Barber producer Travis Knox—a 1993 Chapman alum, former studio executive and current head of development and production at Dodge College—told the university's student newspaper that of all the scripts he reviewed, The Barber's “was the one that fit every bullet point we wanted, as far as price, marketability and commercial value.”

How about bullet points for art, intelligence and stirring messages? One hopes those are also instilled in Dodge students so we can look forward to the second Chapman Filmed Entertainment production.

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