Gina (Queen Latifah) has relocated from Chicago to Atlanta after her daughter is accepted into a special musical school for the gifted. Fed up with working for Jorge (Kevin Bacon, er, hamming it up), an arrogant salon owner, Gina decides to strike out on her own with her friends and family (including Alicia Silverstone, Alfre Woodard, and Keshia Knight Pulliam). Owning her own business is much tougher for Gina than she had imagined, but when word of mouth catches fire, her dreams are soon realized. Gina's success enrages Jorge, who wants nothing more than to bring down his former employee.
"Beauty Shop" (IMDb listing) is a spin-off from Ice Cube's popular "Barbershop" franchise. The groundwork for the Gina character was poured in 2004's "Barbershop 2," and now a year later, here she is, making it on her own in Atlanta. But somebody forgot to pack the jokes and the plot.
"Beauty Shop" is an unsophisticated film, which is fine. The best parts of "Barbershop" were the moments in the actual shop, watching the customers and the stylists debate, insult, and fawn over each other, sold with a capable cast that included Cedric the Entertainer and Ice Cube. "Beauty Shop" only comes equipped with a hyper performance from Latifah, who, after last fall's disastrous "Taxi," has made it abundantly clear she only wants to play one character: the sassy, improv-heavy, whip-smart, Africa-American woman of the moment, as opposed to her breakthrough role in "Chicago," where she was (gasp!) heavily directed. It's hard to deny Latifah her energy, but the "Beauty Shop" material is so tired it should come outfitted with a comforter and pillow.
The film only has three jokes. The first is the sight gag of Kevin Bacon in long hair and simulating a cartoonish Euro-hip accent. It's playful of Bacon to take this role, but director Bille Woodruff ("Honey") allows it to veer straight into camp. Why not just cast RuPaul and get it over with? The second series of jokes deal with race, notably black people making fun of buffoonish white people. "Barbershop" had its fair share of racial comedy, but the jabs in "Beauty Shop" are often mean-spirited for no reason, made worse when the white actors (including Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari) feel the need to exaggerate their performances to make sure they compete for laughs. And don't get me started on an uncalled for bit that has Gina misunderstanding Jorge's pronunciation of "moniker." The third and final joke of the picture is a nice homophobic riff that has Gina's crew believing the new hottie stylist (Bryce Wilson) is gay, just because he spent four months in prison and drinks his tea with a pinkie in the air. These paper-thin jokes are repeated ad nauseam, not extracting a single laugh as they are beaten relentlessly by Woodruff.
Most disappointing about "Beauty Shop" is the lack of a neighborhood focus and a racial unity angle. While the "Barbershop" films could never suitably balance jokes with preachy community material, "Beauty Shop" doesn't even try for a socially redeeming message. That would get in the way of Gina's cold fish romance with an African electrician (Djimon Hounsou, looking lost), and a weird subplot that has Gina on the brink of selling her homebrew conditioner to Revlon (Latifah is a Revlon spokesperson in the real world). "Beauty Shop" misses the easy targets that "Barbershop" arranged so specifically, instead going off on its own intensely unfunny and stale path. Ice Cube, I've never missed you more.
Filmfodder Grade: D+