Directed by Bille Woodruff. Starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard, Mena Suvari, Kevin Bacon, Djimon Hounsou, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Della Reese, Kimora Lee Simmons. (2005, PG-13, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 1, 2005
Little is ventured and little is gained in this femme-centric new installment in the successful Barbershop franchise, although there’s an amiability that permeates the movie and carries it through most of the rough patches and split ends. Queen Latifah, who was introduced in Barbershop 2, takes over the Ice Cube role (as both the lead and as a producer) in this thinly plotted story about entrepreneurial pluck and workplace camaraderie. Latifah plays Gina, a widow with a young daughter who lives in Atlanta with her husband’s mother and sister. Gina works at a fashionable hair salon run by the egotistical stylist Jorge (Bacon, in an over-the-top comic performance, complete with stringy hair and Eurotrash diction) until his ridiculous demands cause her to quit and open her own shop. It’s a ramshackle business in an African-American neighborhood that she and the other stylists fix up to become the centerpiece for the movie’s ramshackle parade of badinage – the crux of the series’ raison d’être. Enough characters and storylines are put into motion to launch a dozen sequels, yet the movie never feels overstuffed or perplexing. As soon as one storyline loses steam, the film simply moves on to another instead of wrapping up the loose ends (as it does with the Cover Girl subplot, which seems more like a scheme to highlight Latifah’s outside endorsement deal than a necessary plot direction). The women of the salon are a sassy bunch full of banter and good will – except toward Lynn (Silverstone), a white country girl and stylist, whom Gina recruits from Jorge’s shampoo pit. Silverstone (who sports one of the worst Southern backwoods accents ever heard in movies), MacDowell, and Suvari are presumably on board to boost the film’s crossover potential, though this hardly seems necessary. As Miss Josephine, one of the shop’s holdover employees, Woodard responds with one of her juiciest performances in some time. Like Cedric the Entertainer in both Barbershops, Woodard gives voice to the most uninhibited sentiments: Here she recites Maya Angelou poetry with all the verve of a revivalist preacher. All the women are hot for the salon’s upstairs neighbor and electrician (Hounsou), and question the sexuality of the shop’s one male stylist. Several other subplots abound, but none are treated too seriously. Despite the surplus of characters and subplots, Beauty Shop nevertheless hits some dry patches. But the film’s genial, blow-dry attitude keeps things from going astray.