Review: “Beauty Shop”

Seriously Queen Latifah, your crown is looking a little rusty. The big and proud ‘Queen’ is one hell of a personality that when it sparks, is on fire. She made the 20 year old jokes of “Bringing Down the House” funny, she was deserving of that Oscar nod for superb work in “Chicago”, and she was the sole flame of life to a bunch of lame duck comedies like “Scary Movie 3”, “Barbershop 2” and the recent “Taxi”.

Well, “Beauty Shop” now fits into that latter category – without her presence this lame sitcom-cum-movie would be one ugly mofo. Even with her there, this “Barbershop” spin-off is in essence a more feminine clone of that cliched but surprisingly enjoyable Ice Cube flick from a few years back. Both are basically recycled TV pilots put on the big screen, both used the canned sketch comedy and running gags format, both are stocked with embarassing caricatures, and both come up with an insipid plot device about the shop’s threatened closure – only to be saved at the last minute as always.

The scripting is just lazy, whilst attempts to come off as edgy never actually dive into anything more risque than a brief chat about bikini waxing and arguments about whether their new hunky male beautician is gay. One notable difference between this and the “Barbershop” films is the performances are much worse. Alicia Silverstone as the token white girl utilises an absolutely atrocious accent and an eye-rolling/lip-curling trick whenever she demonstrates she’s a dumb blond.

I always like Alfre Woodard but she’s stuck in a role that gets maybe 2-3 good lines at most. Smaller parts from the likes of Mena Suvari as an icy rich bitch, a Siegfred & Roy looking Kevin Bacon as Latifah’s poncy ex-boss, and Andie McDowell (who must’ve been cryogenically frozen for the last ten years as she hasn’t aged) as a slightly dumb but good-hearted loyal client are embarassing.

Still, not everything goes off the rails. Latifah’s wise sassiness and assertiveness is comforting. A romantic subplot with the gorgeously hunky upstairs neighbour Djimon Hounsou is handled with a low-key simmer which makes it a refreshing break from the rest of the film’s silly antics. The use of a DJ seen only via her lips (until the big reveal of course) seems a bare-faced attempt to just introduce songs onto the soundtrack – but it’s a good soundtrack nevertheless.

In the end the film is merely comfort food – it’s designed for a specific audience and does nothing more than try to satisfy that audience for its runtime with little afterthought. A shame really, a broader and better written comedy could’ve yielded a solid franchise out of this – what’s here you’ll want to try and forget as quickly as a bad perm.