We gave it a C+
Beauty Shop, a spin-off of the spiky and popular Barbershop comedies, places the ladies in the center shampoo chair, and I went into it hoping for the same sort of buzz — for the gossipy, rambunctious kick of neighborhood hairstylists saying whatever pops into their heads, manners (and good taste) be damned. The high spirits are certainly in place. When Gina (Queen Latifah), who has been transplanted from Chicago to Atlanta, quits her job at a trendy salon run by Jorge (Kevin Bacon), a Eurotrash-bitch stylist with enough highlights in his shaggy mane to destroy the cause of metrosexuality, she proceeds to set up her own shop, poaching a couple of his posh clients (Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari) while she’s at it. The backchat is flying before the hair dryers are even plugged in.
There are jokes about big booties and bikini waxes, and far too many obvious ones about the novice white hairdresser (Alicia Silverstone) who comes on like she’s just another sistah. (She’s the equivalent of Troy Garity’s white homeboy in Barbershop.) More often than not, though, it’s the film that’s faking the swagger. Gina opens her business in a low-income neighborhood, but her beauty shop, with its pastel blue walls and free cappuccino, isn’t presented as a funky alternative to Jorge’s designer digs. It’s serene and classy and upscale — sort of like Latifah’s performance. As Gina, she rules over the salon like a wise den mother, striving to fix everyone else’s problems. Beauty Shop could be the slow-gear launch episode of a ”warm” workplace-as-family sitcom. It’s a boisterous and amiable movie but not, in the end, a very funny one.
There’s a telling moment when Gina and her employees are listening, with deep satisfaction, to a sexy-voiced deejay who unspools a tale of feminine vengeance. She talks about acting real ”ghetto,” and then, as a punchline, she drops the N-word, which inspires gales of laughter and disbelieving cries of ”No, she didn’t!” At that point, Gina cuts short the fun by declaring, ”No one says the N-word up in this shop!” Morally, her policy statement is unassailable, yet it comes off as more than a bit schoolmarmish — not to mention contradictory — when you consider that everyone in the salon was cracking up not five seconds before over the slangy catharsis of the forbidden word.
Barbershop and its sequel featured Cedric the Entertainer making glorious trouble. If there’s a female Cedric out there waiting to tell the truth as only a woman can, she is not to be found in Beauty Shop. Alfre Woodard, as the most outspoken of the stylists, has a few moments of bossy bravura, and there are fun touches around the edges, like the soul-food peddler (Sheryl Underwood) who keeps offering folks ”monkey bread” followed by a nutty jungle screech. Djimon Hounsou, as the electrician who falls for Gina, is a love interest too saintly by half. Latifah is sexy enough to earn his attention, but where, I kept wondering, is the snappish queen of rap bluster? In Beauty Shop, she’s been Oprahfied out of existence.