Beauty Shop

(2005) ** 1/2 Pg-13
105 min. MGM. Director: Bille Woodruff. Cast: Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Mena Suvari.

If the commerciality of Beauty Shop doesn't bother you, there's a good chance that nothing will. It's a merry modern feminist reworking of Barbershop that shows how women can be fabulous, maternal, and entrepreneurial all at once.

Queen Latifah, an entrepeneuse in her own right, plays Gina, a Chicago transplant in an Atlanta beauty shop (you may remember her as the chatty product placement in Barbershop 2). The shop is run by a prissy fashionista named Jorge, overplayed with relish by Kevin Bacon. Gina gets fed up with Jorge, dramatically quits, and opens her own beauty shop, which Jorge tries to thwart. Gina's doing it for herself, but also for her school-age daughter (Paige Hurd), so the diva of the driers cannot afford to fail.

Gina's shop is just like Ice Cube's, except gender-swapped. A klatch of sassy black women—some employees and some clients, get into what's on their minds: men, food, and each other's looks. Call me cynical, but to widen the demographic, producer Latifah and exceutive producer Ice Cube include a male stylist, assumed to be gay, and three white women: one a stylist played by Alicia Silverstone and two wealthy clients (Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari). Gina also gets a hunky love interest in an electrician (Djimon Hounsou) who's musically inclined (the better to cozy up to Latifah's piano-playing daughter).

The rest is raunchy banter between the clientele and the beauty shop staff, which includes a full-bore Alfre Woodard as Miss Josephine, a Maya Angelou-quoting hairstylist. Director Bille Woodruff has a good cast up in here, and there's nothing particularly bad about the screenplay's meander through cultural touchstones (at least a half-dozen Oprah references--guess where you'll be seeing Queen Latifah next?). But that's the problem: it's entirely too safe. Every plot point is telegraphed, and the most outrageous joke is Andie MacDowell getting a fat booty from eating too many collard greens.

The film's bootycentric humor notwithstanding, there's a whiff of Spike Lee in the proceedings, by way of a Do the Right Thing-y DJ commentator addressing "Hotlanta" every day (the whole Barbershop franchise was probably inspired by Lee's "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads" short film). In the Barbershop films, Cedric the Entertainer's Eddie lends essential larger-than-life energy and even more essential edge; as great as she is, Woodard's material just isn't up to the audience-baiting task, and Della Reese only passes through one sort of spritzy scene.

In the film's sole overt reference to black history, Latifah hangs a photo of beauty-product entrepeneur Madam C.J. Walker: a terrific nod, but a reminder that this story's history mostly comes from two other movies. You may not "get krunked" with Beauty Shop, but you know what you're getting into. It's sitcom-ready material that delivers on its promise.

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