Beauty Shop

on March 30, 2005 by Wade Major
This spin-off from the "Barbershop" series was already in the making when Queen Latifah's sassy stylist Gina was briefly introduced in "Barbershop 2." Her memorable verbal sparring with Cedric the Entertainer's Eddie not only planted the seeds for a kind of female "Barbershop" that would give similar voice to the issues, concerns and relationships of urban women, but helped establish a uniquely strong character that would also lend the offshoot a personality of its own. No surprise, then, that the resulting film ends up being both fresh and familiar, entertaining and uplifting enough in its own right even if it doesn't quite measure up to its predecessors.

Having relocated from Chicago to Atlanta so her daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) can attend a prestigious music school, Gina is now working at an upscale salon owned and operated by the effete and narcissistic Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon). Friction is inevitable -- though Gina brings in the clients, she gets no love from the egomaniacal Jorge. So off she goes on her own, buying a run-down ol' salon in the 'hood and whipping it into shape with a supporting crew of sistas every bit as opinionated and lovable as their "Barbershop" counterparts. But as "Barbershop's" Calvin surely could have told her, small business ownership is no cakewalk, and it's only a matter of time before events and enemies conspire to shut the beauty shop down.

If the plot follows the "Barbershop" model to a T, the cast of characters aren't far behind. Like Eve's token girl in the male "Barbershop," the female "Beauty Shop" has its token male in hunky Bryce Wilson. There's also the talented, 'hood-savvy Caucasian (Alicia Silverstone in place of Troy Garity), the mouthy old-timer (Alfre Woodard in place of Cedric) and several other facsimiles that match a little too perfectly. Elsewhere, though, the film adds distinctive touches of its own, such as Latifah's relationship with the charming, soft-spoken African (Djimon Hounsou) who lives just above the shop. Thankfully, the supporting players also aren't overly concerned with emulating their "Barbershop" counterparts. Nearly every supporting player, in fact, gets a scene-stealing chance to shine, with L'il JJ, Sherri Shepherd and "Cosby Show" veteran Keshia Knight Pulliam allotted more than their quota.

Efficiently directed by music video veteran Bille Woodruf, the film isn't always up to the level of its cast: Woodard, Andie MacDowell and Della Reese sometimes seem hamstrung by the obviousness and simplicity of the dialogue. But the earnest message underlying that obviousness is too well-intentioned to merit much of a serious protestation. Unfortunately, that message is too often offset by a clear reluctance on the part of the filmmakers to risk the kind of controversy that inflamed the release of the original "Barbershop." Not that anyone will accuse "Beauty Shop" of pulling its punches, but that's only because it never really throws any. Starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Mena Suvari, Della Reese and Kevin Bacon. Directed by Bille Woodruf. Written by Kate Lanier and Norman Vance Jr. Produced by David Hoberman, Robert Teitel, George Tillman Jr., Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere. An MGM release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and brief drug references. Running time: 105 min

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