by David Cornelius
The problem with Queen Latifah’s scenes in “Barbershop 2” is that we as an audience knew we were being set up for a cheap spin-off. The studio had found a way to insert advertising for one movie into another, in the same way that the Scorpion King got ample, useless screen time in “The Mummy Returns.”For those who don’t remember, word was put out long before “Barbershop 2” hit theaters that Queen Latifah would be starring in a “Barbershop” spin-off titled “Beauty Shop.” Problem was, Latifah wasn’t in “Barbershop,” and the makers of “Barbershop 2” had to figure out a way to get her into their movie, just to make the spin-off all official and such. It didn’t really work. And while I’m one of the few people out there who thought “Barbershop 2” was actually a decent little movie, even I will admit that the Latifah scenes were forced, pointless, and obnoxious - all because we knew we were being sold something that hadn’t even been made yet.
"Latifah is sassy and people talk about butts - and that's about it, people."
Well, “Beauty Shop” is finally out there, and it turns out that what we were being sold isn’t really all that much of anything. It’s a film that takes the “Barbershop” premise - take a bunch of interesting characters and hang them on a barely-there plotline while we listen in as they discuss all sorts of controversial matters - and removes the words “interesting,” “controversial,” and even “discuss.” It’s meant to be a gender switch on its predecessor, but it’s actually just a pale comparison.
What we get is a tired comedy in which Gina (Latifah, who, once again, deserves better) moves to Atlanta, gets a job at a swank salon owned by Kevin Bacon, of all people (and with a supposed-to-be-hilarious-but-isn’t Euro accent, too). She promptly quits and opens up her own shop, which, of course, begins to outdo Austrian Kevin Bacon’s in terms of business. This is mostly due, I suppose, to the fact that Gina’s shop gets the same six or seven customers every day, as if these people have nothing to do but sit around for hours and pay for fifty dollar hairdos that repair any living done in the past twelve hours. (At least “Barbershop” focused more on the employees than the customers; watching “Beauty Shop,” I kept asking myself why Andie MacDowell needs a perm every day.) You get that much guaranteed repeat business and you’re sure to do fine.
Most of the happenings are slight and harmless. A sexy electrician (Djimon Hounsou) lives upstairs and becomes a romantic interest. Gina’s sister-in-law (Keshia Knight Pulliam) gets involved with a thug boyfriend, trouble ensuing. Gina’s daughter (Paige Hurd) is feeling down after her father died. Gina’s pal (Alicia Silverstone, sporting an embarrassingly bad accent) gets heat from the other gals in the shop for being white. And a smug county inspector (Jim Holmes) keeps stopping by and slapping Gina with outrageous fines (this, by the way, sets up a highly predictable finale that plays out as one of the dumbest endings I’ve seen in a long time).
It’s all bland, forgettable stuff, lacking a single memorable character. (Lafitah’s essentially playing herself, or, at least, the same “Generic Sassy Black Woman” she always plays in comedies.) The screenplay’s attempts at jokes rarely work, partially because they’re not thought through (are we really to believe that the intelligent, competent Gina has never heard of the word “moniker?”), partially because they’re too cheap and easy (big booty punchlines abound). And while “Barbershop” had its characters arguing about a variety of topics, “Beauty Shop,” unable to produce a character capable of interesting thought, cheats by simply having its cast sit around and listen to a feisty DJ (Adele Givens) who supplies all of the “controversial” discussion - and who, by the way, insists on repeatedly calling it “Hotlanta,” which to me always came across as one of those forced-cutesy nicknames that people secretly hope everyone else would stop using.
True, “Beauty Shop” will sometimes let a devilish comment slip, but they’re too few and far between. If this isn’t obvious to you when you watch it, wait for the final scene, in which the gang stands around the radio, shouting out “conversation ideas” to the DJ. It’s as if the writers got to the last page and realized that they left out all the deep discussion, and they thought they could make up for it with a thirty second shoutfest.
The ultimate example of the movie’s failure comes in the character of James, played by Bryce Wilson. There’s a running gag throughout the film involving the unknown nature of James’ sexual orientation. He does great hair, he knows all the words to “I’ll Take Your Man,” he drinks his cappuccino with his pinky extended. And yet, somewhere along the way, the script decides to make James straight, putting him in a weak romance with Alicia Silverstone’s character. Why? Did the filmmakers fear that black audiences wouldn’t approve of a positive gay character? While it’s nice to see an absence of homophobia in the film’s handling of this plotline, it’s upsetting to see that the filmmakers opted to play it safe.Which, again, is what separates “Beauty Shop” from “Barbershop.” Not only would “Barbershop” have kept James gay, but they would have used it for a series of discussions. I’m sure Eddie would have had plenty to say on the matter. In “Beauty Shop,” though, the issue is teased but ultimately avoided. This is a film that refuses to be daring, that goes out of its way to play it safe. “Barbershop” had a fire in its belly. “Beauty Shop” doesn’t even have a spark.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11804&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/21/05 08:49:53