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BEAUTY SHOP (PG-13) (2005)


Official Site

Director: Bille Woodruff

Producers: Elizabeth Cantillon, Shakim Compere, David Hoberman, Queen Latifah, Robert Teitel, George Tillman, Jr.

Written by: Elizabeth Hunter, Kate Lanier, Norman Vance, Jr.

Cast: Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Mena Suvari, Kevin Bacon, Djimon Hounsou


From the creative minds that birthed Honey and Glitter comes a considerably lesser version of Barbershop—only this time, it’s the girls’ turn!

Good gravy. I mean, this thing really is a mess.

Sporting one of the oddest ensemble casts in, well, ever, (What paint-huffing exec put Andie MacDowell, Della Reese, and platinum-selling rapper Baby into the same story?), Beauty Shop—a derivative of the successful Barbershop franchise starring Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer—is an untidy goulash of divergent plot points and transient, incomplete characters that churns out loose ends with frightening ease and, ultimately, frustrates much more than it entertains.

Queen Latifah, and only Queen Latifah, is back from the earlier films as Gina, who ran the Chicago beauty shop next-door to Cube’s notorious hair-cutting concern in 2. In this latest film, Gina has moved to Atlanta so that her aspiring-pianist daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) can attend music school, and must work at an upscale salon rather than opening her own shop in order to pay Vanessa’s tuition. (All of this and more [namely, Latifah’s alone-ness,] is outlined quite clearly near the beginning by way of clunky, transparent dialogue—phrases like: “ever since getting into that expensive music school” and “she doesn’t have the same passion since her daddy passed away.”) Soon (and predictably) enough, though, Gina’s… um… “flamboyant” boss (a hokum-heavy Kevin Bacon) pisses her off sufficiently to send her storming out the door toward her true calling, creating that all-important screenwriter’s tool—conflict. (You may think me harsh, but understand me: After watching this film, it’s all I can do not to use the words ‘screenwriter’ and ‘tool’ in another, less tasteful sentence.)

Okay, you say to yourself. A mother-and-daughter story wherein Latifah must strike a delicate balance between achieving her dreams and enabling her daughter to follow her own. Hmm. Sounds a little cornball, but nice. Oh, but you’re wrong. O, dear moviegoer! How trusting you are, how painfully unaware. No, this story is not that. For it happens that shortly after Gina decides to open her own salon, little Vanessa disappears from the script almost entirely, and remains absent for the main action of the film, making way for the introduction of a host of new characters, “conflicts,” and corresponding deus ex machina wrap-ups. You don’t notice at first—it’s only later, when she comes back for an aforementioned piano recital and then vamooses again, nonsensically, that you realize all that heavy “dead father” foreshadowing was for naught and she’s no longer an emotional focal point of the picture.

Queen Latifah, usually great, is only lukewarm in Beauty Shop, doing a blander version of the sassy ass-kicking you usually love her for. But as the only attempted full character, you cling to her for dear life—all the more so once the girl’s gone. Honestly, no one really shines in this one. Teenaged comedian Lil’ JJ has a moment or two as plucky, gutter-minded youth Willie, but nothing you haven’t seen done better elsewhere. The consistently fantastic but more consistently un-choosy Alfre Woodard gets the best-written lines in the picture: She spends nearly all of her screen time leading spirited recitations of Maya Angelou poetry—and that, refreshing though it may be to hear carefully crafted wordsmithing—gets old too. Alicia Silverstone, despite a grating southern accent, emerges relatively unscathed with the crown of “least annoying white girl,” finishing a hair ahead of “stupid white girl #2” MacDowell and “irritating white waif-bitch” Mena Suvari. Bacon wanly channels an effeminate lost cousin of “Saturday Night Live”’s Hans and Frans, and Djimon Hounsou, while pretty and muscle-bound, comes across like bored concrete. The only comic character that really works consistently at all, and then only because Bryce Wilson somehow manages to pull off a severely hackneyed gag with some subtlety and wit, is the questionably heterosexual male stylist, James. They beat you repeatedly about the face and head with it, but for some reason I kept giggling. Which only goes to show: If the tireless racism don’t get ya, the almost-equally persistent gay stereotyping will. (I may have been delirious, though.)

It’s not a lack of plot that kills the film; oddly enough, Beauty Shop suffers from plot-glut. A bevy of stuffed-in, unresolved sub-stories and casually skipped-over sea changes (particularly exasperating among which is any semblance of a justification for the main romance of the film—there is literally no chemistry whatsoever between Latifah and Hounsou) render the film nearly incoherent, and finally forgettable. Further, it habitually scavenges entire bits, characters and plot situations from Barbershop: the sexually aggressive young’n who harasses older women, the lone white hairdresser who is first shunned, then accepted by his/her black peers, the comic goldmine that is white-people-trying-to-talk-like-black-people....

This not at all to say that Barbershop created these bits—the vast majority of these have been creaky-limbed, moth-eaten standards for decades. But Barbershop was clever. The only surprises in Beauty Shop are (1) Rudy Huxtable grew up (Keshia Knight Pulliam plays Latifah cohort Darnelle) and (2) Alfre Woodard is well-endowed. You can do an old joke if you tell it slightly differently or with a modicum of wit (see Barbershop, et al.) Telling an old joke loudly, however, does not, to my taste, make it new or worthwhile (see Beauty Shop; or better yet, don’t.)

—Brian Villalobos

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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