Eric D. Snider

Beauty Shop

After seeing "Beauty Shop," I sympathize with the plight of African-Americans even more than I already did. Imagine being part of a culture that is so under-represented by Hollywood that garbage like "Beauty Shop" is the only thing you have to call your own. Recycled plots, lame jokes, stereotyped characters: Sorry, black America. That's all we've got for you. (I guess it's nothing personal; that's usually all we have for ourselves, too.)

No one should have to settle for a franchise re-tread like this. Inspired by the success of "Barbershop" and its lackluster sequel, "Beauty Shop" is something of an off-shoot -- not a sequel, really, since the only "Barbershop" character is Queen Latifah, and she was only introduced in "Barbershop 2" as a setup for "Beauty Shop." But since "Barbershop" was about people gossiping in a barbershop, and "Beauty Shop" is about the people gossiping in a beauty shop, it's considered a spin-off. (Which means they're all spin-offs of "Steel Magnolias," obviously, but never mind.)

We begin at Jorge's, an upscale Atlanta salon run by the titular fey German, played with an outrageous accent by Kevin Bacon. Among his employees is Gina Norris (Queen Latifah), a gifted stylist who often rubs Jorge the wrong way with her less-than-snotty attitude and her friendly demeanor. In one of the film's stupider jokes, he reminds her that HE is in charge: "You don't give the shots here. I give the shots here. Unless you are diabetic."

Bacon and Latifah have the film's second-stupidest joke, too. Repeating the same theme about his ownership of the salon, he tells her, "My name is on the moniker!," and she thinks "moniker" is "my n*****," which greatly offends her. Ha ha, it's funny, she thought he said the N-word. Except guess what: He's misusing the word "moniker." It's not a physical thing that you can put your name on; the word MEANS name or nickname, as in, "That's Kevin Bacon, who often goes by the moniker 'Weasel Face.'" Jorge -- and by Jorge I mean the screenwriters -- probably confused "moniker" with "marquee." Or maybe they realized their mistake but declined to fix it because then they'd have lost the priceless "moniker/my n*****" joke. Either way, this is what happens when dumb people are allowed to make movies.

Gina eventually quits Jorge's and opens her own salon, securing the business loan by giving the frumpy loan officer a makeshift makeover in the bank's public restroom. (Paper clips are involved.) I'm not kidding you. She is rejected for the loan, she follows the woman into the bathroom, she does the woman's hair, and the woman is so overjoyed she says, "The loan is yours!" The entire sequence is wholly unnecessary -- couldn't we just assume Gina got the loan and move ahead to opening the salon? -- and I have to assume it was kept because someone thought it was funny. Which it isn't. Again, you let dumb people gain access to movie cameras, you're going to wind up with crap like this.

Gina inherits a few stylists from the salon's old owner, including an over-sexed married woman, a black-pride Maya-Angelou-quoting activist, a slutty-acting girl, etc. Two others quit immediately, and they are named Porsche and Mercedes, only so someone can later make a joke about the fact that they're named Porsche and Mercedes. Gina brings someone with her from Jorge's, too: a blond cracker named Lynn, played by Alicia Silverstone with what is, without question, the single worst Southern accent I have ever heard. It is so exaggerated and drawn-out that I wonder if maybe Silverstone had never met a Southern person and had to have the accent explained academically to her, the way you'd have to explain to an Ethiopian actor how to react to snow. Surely no one who has ever heard a Georgia drawl first-hand would think Silverstone's approximation of it is even remotely acceptable.

(And what's Alicia Silverstone doing here, anyway? Who let her out of oblivion?)

For some reason, there is an electrician who lives above the salon, and for some reason he is played by Djimon Hounsou, who goes by the moniker "Walking Tranquilizer." I get why he's in the film -- the scene where he's not wearing a shirt makes that clear -- but what, couldn't they find anyone duller? Was a cinder block with a face painted on it unavailable? Did they not have access to a bucket of sand that they could tape word balloons to? Every line he speaks sounds like it is being muttered in his sleep. He reminds me of when athletes host "Saturday Night Live": they may be good at something, but speaking publicly with personality and charisma is not it.

The character, Joe, teaches Gina's daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) how to play jazz piano, and he and Gina fall in love, even though Djimon Hounsou and Queen Latifah wouldn't have less chemistry together if they were played by a towel and a loaf of bread.

But I have forsaken the plot. That is "my bad," as they say. My personal bad. The plot is that the uptight, very white state inspector (Jim Holmes) keeps coming by Gina's salon and finding violations and issuing citations and Gina MIGHT LOSE THE SHOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Note: None of the inspector's complaints ever relate to the fact that a woman is selling catfish out of a cart in the middle of a salon.)

Also, Jorge is really mad that Gina keeps stealing his clients, including the always-bad Andie MacDowell, who does nothing to change our expectations of her here. More also, Gina has been mixin' up her own special conditioner at home and maybe she'll get a major company to buy the formula from her. (Is she a chemist? Or is she just mixing name-brand conditioners together, like the time Fred and Barney thought they'd created a new kind of glue when really they were just mixing store-bought glue with other things?)

The film has a good deal of vulgar sexual dialogue, and it's not funny enough to justify its inclusion in what is otherwise a fairly genteel story. In fact, none of the movie is funny. Latifah has a charming presence on the screen, and it's always nice to see Alfre Woodard (as the Maya Angelou fan), but they're given nothing to work with. This is the very picture of bland, uncreative filmmaking, and the fact that it was made by African-Americans is just a further example of the tragedy of black-on-black crime.

P.S. Have you always wanted to see little Rudy from "The Cosby Show" dressed up all hootchy-like? Then you must see this movie.

Grade: D+

Rated PG-13, some strong sexual dialogue, scattered profanity

1 hr., 45 min.

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