September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

Igby Goes Down

Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Ryan Phillippe

Featured attraction

Igby Slocumb (Culkin), a 17-year-old with a smart mouth and a contentious attitude, eventually rubs most everybody close to him the wrong way in this clever but bittersweet coming-of-age comedy. As his own brother (Phillippe) tells him, “I think if Gandhi had had to hang out with you for any prolonged period of time, he’d have ended up kicking the s—-out of you.”

Moviegoers, though, are likely to be charmed by, or at least be sympathetic to, young Igby, because the talented Culkin (one of the younger brothers of Home Alone‘s Macaulay) portrays him with just the right touch of vulnerability peeking out from beneath a hardened shell. Igby, after all, has good reason to be angry: His socialite mom (Sarandon) has packed him off to a series of ever more dismal boarding schools in the six years since his father (Bill Pullman) flipped out and was institutionalized. Deep down, Igby is afraid he will end up like his dad, though our hero is far saner than the messed-up folk he encounters when he hides out in Manhattan after running away from his latest school.

Igby is an updated version of Holden Caulfield, equally wry if not quite as snotty. First-time director-writer Burr Steers provides sharp, nimble dialogue (after a drag queen’s act bombs, a pal of Igby’s says, “I told her Lorna Luft was too obscure–people just think she’s doing a bad Liza”) but also adds enough depth to the main characters that when they hurt, we feel it too. Besides Culkin, standouts in an impressive ensemble cast include Danes as a slightly lost college student with whom Igby falls in love, Sarandon as his pill-popping mother, Goldblum as a business tycoon so oleaginous he practically leaves grease stains in his wake and Amanda Peet as a ditsy choreographer. (R) Bottom Line: Adolescent angst at its most appealing

Barbershop

Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity, Eve

A likable, easygoing comedy with a social conscience, Barbershop is a cut above earlier, negligible Ice Cube laugh-getters such as 1995’s Friday, its 2000 sequel, Next Friday, and this year’s All About the Benjamins. Where those flicks seemed to have been filmed on the fly and leaned heavily on crude jokes about sex and getting high, this latest effort starts with a solid idea: that barbershops serve a vital role as social gathering places in the inner city.

Ice Cube plays Calvin Palmer, owner of a Chicago barbershop, who reconsiders his decision to sell the place after a single long day in which his staff and customers make it clear how important he and the shop are to their lives. Calvin is the movie’s solid center, but director Tim Story wisely gives ample screen time to the proprietor’s opinionated work crew. Of these, Cedric the Entertainer is a hoot as a boisterous old coot, rapper Eve scoresas a snipey snipper, and Garity (son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden) earns his tonsorial stripes as an Eminem-like white guy none of the African-American customers trust to cut their hair. (PG-13) Bottom Line: Shear fun

Quitting

Jia Hongsheng

Jia Hongsheng, a Chinese film star of the early ’90s, plays himself in this docudrama about his recovery from the heroin addiction that ruined his career by age 30. In fact, every character is played by a real-life counterpart: parents, junkie friends, doctors. Yet verisimilitude doesn’t seem to be director Zhang Yang’s aim. An inexplicable tone of scrupulous, becalming detachment shrouds everything, like dust sheets over a room of antiques. Somewhere in there (I think) is the notion of insanity as a rational response to society–a subversive idea in communist China. Still, if this is a case study, shouldn’t we know the subject? (R) Bottom Line: Hardly working

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