Appellate Judge Dave Ryan will let Alicia Silverstone feather his highlights anytime, sister.
After the runaway success of Barbershop and Barbershop 2: Back In Business (hey Hollywood—black people buy movie tickets, too!), a distaff spinoff featuring Barbershop 2's Gina was a no-brainer. And lo, so was born Beauty Shop. Instead of a bunch of brothers hanging out on the South Side, now we'd have a bunch of sisters hanging out in Hotlanta. Sticking with the proven formula, the cast was populated with a gaggle of talented actors and actresses, both black and white. It's all good, aight?
So why didn't Beauty Shop burn up the box office charts? Well, it's simple. Despite the solid concept and the killer cast, the film just didn't have the whip-smart writing that was the true strength of the Barbershop films. Beauty Shop is a fun film, and a pleasingly entertaining way to spend 105 minutes. But it lacks the meaty substance of its predecessors, and feels too fluffy, light, and simplistic to truly work. Which is a damn shame—this is truly an impressive cast.
Facts of the Case
Gina (Queen Latifah, Chicago), last seen hanging with Cube and the boys in Chicago, has packed up and moved to Atlanta so that her daughter, a talented musician, can attend a school for the performing arts there. To pay the rent, she works at a chi-chi salon owned by Austro-Brazilian glamour boy Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon, everything). Jorge believes himself to be God's gift to mankind, or at least to mankind's hair, and makes sure you know about it.
After being pushed by Jorge one too many times, Gina buys a dilapidated beauty salon in southwest Atlanta and tries to make it on her own. She brings a sweet country bumpkin shampoo girl named Lynn (Alicia Silverstone, Clueless) with her from Jorge's, because she sees that Lynn has skills beyond shampooing. She also inherits some of the shop's previous stylists—Miss Josephine (Alfre Woodard, St. Elsewhere), Paulette (Laura Hayes, The Queens of Comedy), and Chanel (Golden Brooks, Girlfriends)—all of whom are chock-full of attitude. A few of Jorge's clients follow her as well, including a cheated-upon Southern belle (Andie MacDowell, sex, lies, and videotape) and a shallow, vapid trophy blonde (Mena Suvari, American Beauty). For eye candy, there's also a handsome upstairs neighbor who's also a good electrician (Djimon Hounsou, Amistad), and a hunky truck driver-turned-braider (Omari Hardwick). Needless to say, Jorge doesn't cotton to Gina's plans to compete with him, and decides to take action. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This film has everything—sexy black women, sexy white women, sexy black men, a sexy white man, sass, attitude, Rudy, catfish, dirty dancing, one degree of Kevin Bacon, Hotlanta in the hizzy, and Della Reese. Everything…except a quality script worthy of its cast. It's telling, and sad, that the gag reel—most of which consists of Bacon and Latifah ad-libbing after line flubs—is funnier and sassier than large parts of the film. Truth be told, the script here is thinner than the paper it was presumably written on. It has its moments, but there aren't enough of them, and they aren't sufficiently connected to make this anything more than a series of entertaining vignettes. Don't get me wrong—it's not a bad film, and it's certainly not unfunny. In fact, at points it's definitely laugh-out-loud funny. (Crazee madd propz to comedienne Sheryl Underwood, who absolutely steals the film as the unforgettable Catfish Rita.) But the film tries to be as all-encompassing as Barbershop, which blended comedy with healthy dollops of light drama and intelligent social commentary. But it just doesn't achieve the level of finesse and subtlety that Barbershop had, and comes off as a hodgepodge of good but poorly-executed ideas.
That is truly a shame. Because this is a strong, strong cast—arguably a better group than the Barbershop films featured. I'm probably not the first to say this, but I'll certainly be the one to say it loud and clear: Queen Latifah (a.k.a. Dana Owens from Newark) is an amazing talent, and would be one whether she were black, white, yellow, or purple. I've rarely seen actors or actresses who can command the screen with the avalanche of personality that Latifah brings to anything she does. Unfortunately, so far she hasn't found a project—save for her Oscar-nominated turn in Chicago—that has properly exploited her overabundance of ability. Her film history is littered with good ideas that just didn't click the way they should have, such as Bringing Down the House—and this film. Fear not, though. Someday this Queen's prince will come. She's too good for it not to happen.
For what it's worth, the supporting cast holds their own with Latifah. The great Kevin Bacon has a blast with the Jorge character, complete with hair extensions and the fakest of fake tans—he's not really acting, he's clearly just playing for as many laughs as he can get. Although in the end it's a fairly small role for him, he's tremendous. Alfre Woodard—one of the most underrated actresses working—is, typically, outstanding. But again, as with Bacon, there just isn't enough of her. The usually serious Djimon Hounsou shows a bit of a playful side here, which is nice to see. Andie McDowell is…well, she's basically playing herself, so she can't really screw that up. Mena Suvari does the rich bitch well, but again doesn't have a heck of a lot to do. Her fake implants look good on her, though. And yes, that hot young piece of all that is, indeed, Keisha Knight-Pulliam, the youngest of the Cosby kids. (She grew up well. Damn well.)
Just as only Nixon could go to China, only Alicia Silverstone, possibly the whitest of white actresses this side of Katherine Hepburn, could have wound up in this film about African-American women. Lynn is an empty vessel of a character; a token Dumb White Girl From the Trailer Park thrown in as part of the aforementioned "message" aspect of the film. Nobody could truly save this role, but good ol' Alicia at least gives it a try. She does a good job of it, managing to make the character cute and lovable when she could have been nothing more than an annoying roadbump. Her Deep South accent is a bit corny, but it's also pretty accurate. It's not a great role for her, but at least she's back on the big screen. And as cute as ever, I might add.
Picture and sound are typical for current film releases—there's really nothing much to say about either. The single-sided disc offers both a widescreen and a full screen transfer—make your own assumptions about bit rate. The surround sound track handles the music well, but most of the film comes through the center channel. A thin group of extras is included, most significantly the gag reel mentioned above. There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette, and commentary by director Bille Woodruff on a handful of scenes. It's better than nothing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At one point late in the film, Silverstone and Suvari have a brief little catfight. Besides being entertaining, this one scene fulfilled several very, very specific fantasies for me. Alicia's semi-infamous bump-'n'-grind dancing scene fulfilled several more. For that reason, this is clearly the greatest film ever made by mankind.
Beauty Shop is a well-intentioned misfire. If it weren't for the outstanding cast, you'd say it was a decent, light summer comedy. But with this much firepower, you expect a lot more bang for your buck. Bring these people back with a Barbershop-level script, and you'll have a truly great motion picture, I guarantee. But all is not lost; this really isn't a bad film at all. It just feels like a lost opportunity.
Yeah, as if the court was going to find anything with Alicia Silverstone in it guilty. (Well, except for Rock My World. Don't get me started on that one.) I declare—probation!
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Scales of Justice
• Featurette: "Beauty Shop: Inside the Style"
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