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Dustin Putman

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Beauty Shop (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Bille Woodruff
Cast: Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Kevin Bacon, Djimon Hounsou, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Paige Hurd, Bryce Wilson, Sherri Shepherd, Alfre Woodard, Andie MacDowell, Mena Suvari, Golden Brooks, Lil' JJ, Adele Givens, Della Reese, Kimorra Lee Simmons, Joyful Drake, Michelle Griffin, Andrew Levitas, Wilmer Valderrama
2005 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual material, language and brief drug references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 31, 2005.

Queen Latifah (2004's "Taxi") appeared in 2004's "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," the inferior, practically worthless sequel to the amiable 2002 original, as Gina, the ex-girlfriend of Ice Cube's character who worked at a beauty salon right next door to his hair cuttery. Her role was a glorified cameo, a mere excuse to segue into a feature film spin-off of her own. The finished product is "Beauty Shop," and about the only thing it has going for it is the novelty of being a female-oriented version of that series. In fact, novelty may be too generous a word to describe what is, in essence, a one-note sitcom stretched out to 105 minutes. The problem with this is that UPN's new series, "Cuts," starring Shannon Elizabeth and Shondrella Avery, already beat it to the punch. At least with that disposable, if harmless, show, the viewer doesn't have to pay upwards of ten dollars to watch it.

Since the conclusion of "Barbershop 2," Gina Norris (Queen Latifah) has moved out of Chicago and relocated to Atlanta so that her piano prodigy daughter, Vanessa (Paige Hurd), can attend a prestigious arts school. When she abruptly quits her hairstylist job at an upscale salon after being disrespected by snooty, flamboyant manager Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon), Gina sets out to open her own ghetto-fabulous beauty shop. Realizing her dream, however, comes with its downside, as Gina's burgeoning salon—a safe haven where women can come to chat, gossip, and relate to one another—unknowingly becomes the target of sabotage for jilted Jorge.

Really, though, this last piece of business only comes into play in the third act. Until then, "Beauty Shop" lumbers along without much rhyme or reason for being, hopping from one comic or soul-searching vignette to the next without much in the way of an actual story. So inert are the plot developments, if one can call them that, and so predictable is its ultimate happy ending, that there is never any real rooting interest in what happens. It is the type of conceptual comedy that just exists without being neither very good or woefully bad.

As for Queen Latifah, she is an oft-underappreciated actress with more depth and soulfulness than her performances are given credit for. Then again, it may be the lack of solid roles that could be her downfall. Either way, Latifah is something of an afterthought here, upstaged at every turn by the colorful, quirky supporting characters. They all exist strictly within the realm of Kate Lanier's (2001's "Glitter") and Norman Vance Jr.'s paperweight screenplay, never coming off as if they have a life outside of their scenes. Nonetheless, they are memorable, and it is them—not Latifah—that give "Beauty Shop" the little bit of charm it contains.

Forever destined to be most known for her work in 1995's wonderful "Clueless," Alicia Silverstone (2004's "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed") steals the show as Gina's deep-south best friend, Lynn, a shampoo-girl-turned-stylist and token white girl of the salon who wants nothing more than to fit in with her urban co-workers. Sporting a purposefully exaggerated hillbilly accent that proves part of her magnetism, Silverstone is the closest thing director Bille Woodruff (2003's "Honey") has to comic gold, and she runs away with the picture's biggest laughs and most lovable moments.

As the quietly expressive Joe, a musician living above the beauty shop and Gina's love interest, Djimon Hounsou (2003's "Biker Boyz") is quite effective with the little bit he is given to do. Also notable in otherwise stock parts are Keshia Knight Pulliam (little Rudy from TV's "The Cosby Show"), all grown-up and bringing sex appeal to Gina's misguided sister-in-law, Darnell; Kevin Bacon (2004's "The Woodsman"), showing off his range in a broadly comic turn as Jorge Christophe; and Andie MacDowell (2001's "Town & Country") and Mena Suvari (2000's "Loser") as two of Gina's wealthier, whiter clientele. Finally, standup comedienne Adele Givens shows spunk as a radio DJ whose spicy commentary runs throughout the proceedings.

Those walking into "Beauty Shop" can expect a few good laughs interspersed with some running jokes that fall amazingly flat—Alfre Woodard (2004's "The Forgotten") is criminally misused as a hairstylist who quotes Maya Angelou on a moment's whim—and, really, not much else. Unimaginatively directed by Bille Woodruff and flatly shot by cinematographer Theo van de Sande (2004's "Little Black Book")—another reason for the movie's small-screen feel—"Beauty Shop" is a step up from "Barbershop 2," but simply a distaff retread of the original "Barbershop." Although not a chore to sit through, the whole thing seems rather clunkily thought out and offers precious little worth remembering once the end credits have rolled. Regrettably, and even with its all-star cast of game performers, "Beauty Shop" never takes off and has the sort of go-for-broke fun that was intended. For Queen Latifah, let's hope this is just another step toward finding that next meaty part more fitting of her wide talents. She deserves better than this.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman