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Rich people are different from you and me; they’re not nearly as funny. “Do you know where your sterling performance is going to take you now, little man?” Mimi Slocumb (Susan Sarandon) asks her perpetually delinquent son Igby (Kieran Culkin), in Igby Goes Down (MGM, opens September 13). “Choate?” comes the sassy response. Inchoate is more like it. One needn’t have been deprived of a prep-school education, don’t you know, to be peeved by Burr Steers’s laxly structured debut, a poor man’s Catcher in the Rye as conceived of by the Hemlock Society (call it How I Killed My Mother). On the lam from military school, tadpole Igby pulls into New York, where he interferes in the affairs of his moneybags godfather (Jeff Goldblum), dips into the demimonde (Jared Harris and Amanda Peet) and drug running, and is the losing point of a love triangle with cloves-puffing Bennington sylph Sookie Saperstein (Claire Danes) and his own older brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe).
Culkin broods and freaks out ably, but Igby’s snotty, dysfunction-derived malaise remains off-putting, mostly because his lines aren’t half as clever or empathic as Steers would believe. Rushmore‘s Max Fischer wouldn’t be caught dead telling lame New Jersey jokes, and the final-reel play at morbid gravitas (despised mother asks her sons to snuff her out) only invites unfavorable comparison to Harold and Maude.
The premise of Barbershop (MGM, opens September 13) is as hackneyed as they come, but the overall mood is less cynical than affectionate. Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) struggles to keep the Chicago barbershop he inherited from his warmhearted late father, but he’s soon forced to seek a loan shark who, after some rudimentary wheeling and dealing, basically winds up with the deed to the place. Faced with the possibility that the family business will be turned into a barbershop-themed strip joint (if it’s not the Players Club, forget it!), Calvin tries to return the cash, only to learn that the interest is apparently 100 percent per diem.
Puffing alongside the central story is the attempt of two buffoons to secretly open a stolen ATM unit. That the impenetrable machine is actually empty suggests a piercing metaphor for modern man, but only headaches emerge from these rackety interludes. Relief comes in the form of Original King of Comedy Cedric the Entertainer, who, as old-time razorman Eddie, expertly blends lethargy and inspiration amid the Afro picks and Barbicide. To the disbelief and delight of the other shop denizens, he skewers an impressive roster of black America’s sacred cows, from Rosa Parks to O.J.—raising the film’s temperature and dropping parts of speech along the way.