The Barbershop blueprint is in full effect in Queen Latifah’s Atlanta-based spin-off. Beauty Shop just took Barbershop’s template, plugged in cast members of the opposite gender, and followed the formulaic storyline right down to the 95-minute running time. There is a struggling salon full of loudmouthed female hairdressers; a token white girl who wants to be a soul sistah (Alicia Silverstone); a wise, older beautician (Alfre Woodard); an attractive hairdresser of the opposite sex (Bryce Wilson); a series of quirky clients (including Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari); and a wealthy antagonist trying to close the beauty shop’s doors (Kevin Bacon). So what’s wrong with the recipe? It worked for two Barbershops didn’t it? Well, it turns out Barbershop had a few things that its spin-off does not—namely Ice Cube and a well-written script—and without those elements, Beauty Shop simply fails to lift off.
Indeed, Beauty Shop is not just a pale facsimile of its predecessors; as a stand-alone film, it’s both dull and contrived. Where Barbershop’s humor felt organic and breezy, everything in Beauty Shop smacks of strenuous effort. Barbershop mined its characters for comedy; here, Beauty Shop relies on lame setups and insipid punch lines. Where Barbershop’s humor was edgy, opinionated, and controversial, Beauty Shop’s is racially hostile, generic, and about as controversial as an episode of “According to Jim.”
The film follows single, self-confident Gina (Queen Latifah), who has moved from Chicago to Atlanta, where her daughter is enrolled at an expensive music school. She takes up with her mother-in-law (Della Reese) and her sister-in-law Darnelle (Keisha Knight Pulliam, formerly of Rudy Huxtable fame) in an Atlanta suburb. After she tires of working for an upscale beauty salon run by the fussy, condescending Jorge (Kevin Bacon, channeling some weird Hans & Franz accent), she obtains a bank loan and starts her own beauty shop, where she brings along Lynn (Silverstone), a country bumpkin who sports perhaps the worst Southern accent ever exhibited on film.
Once Gina’s is resourcefully transformed from a rundown building into a nice commercial establishment, the rest of the hairdressers fall into place: the sassy (at least in name) Ida, the Afro-centric Miss Josephine (Woodard), and the outspoken Chanel (Golden Brooks), who all predictably shun Lynn because she is white. Joining the cast are also the electrician and hunky love interest, Joe (Djimon Hounsou), the sexually ambiguous ex-con James (Wilson), and the clientele, which include the breast-implanted Barbie (Mena Suvari) and the continually shat-upon-by-her-husband regular, Terri (MacDowell).
The biggest failure with Beauty Shop might be Queen Latifah, who is often the only saving grace of any film she stars in; here, she is unable to rise above the material. She is ordinary, and it’s difficult to see why the rest of the cast would care enough to rally around her. Ice Cube’s gruff charm held everything together in Barbershop; here, Latifah’s sharp tongue is put in check, relegated to tired big-booty jokes and sassless one-liners, and her struggle holds no tension—she never learns anything about herself and her character never evolves.
More detrimental to a fan of the Barbershop franchise, however, is the loss of its vibe, which is totally missing from this installment. This humor is too kind and gentle to arouse much interest; the familiarity is gone, and all of that intangible kinesis that Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer brought to the screen is vacant here. It’s not that I hated Beauty Shop; it had a certain amount of spunk, a few good lines, and decent camaraderie. It’s just that, more than anything, Beauty Shop made me yearn for that indescribable feeling I had watching Barbershop—a sense of community; a feeling of nostalgia for something I’d never experienced; and an intense desire to sit in one of Calvin’s seats, just so I could soak up the aura of his barbershop. Gina’s Hair Salon, on the other hand, is spirit-destroying. It felt more like a chore; like one of those corporate Snip ‘n’ Shits where you pay your $12.95, sit quietly for 10 minutes, and walk out dejected, and sporting a crappy haircut to boot.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Beauty Shop / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()