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Published: 3/30/2005

Movie review: Beauty Shop **

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Chris Rock had a point.

Back in February at the Academy Awards, while everyone was anxious to see if he would bring bad taste to the Oscars (a feat accomplished long before he got there), Rock tucked a keen bit of film criticism into his opening monologue. Why is it, he asked, that white people get movies with titles that mean something, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or sound honorable, like The Aviator, while movies marketed to black audiences get stuck with meaningless titles suggesting hard work or relaxation, and nothing else?

Like Beauty Shop.

Rock was being glib. He's a comedian. He's allowed.

Still, there's truth to this. He was talking about The Cookout and Friday, and on the flip side of the leisure coin, Car Wash and Barbershop, which led to Barbershop 2. These tend to be comedies; most films made primarily for African-American audiences are. And they tend to end with a shoveled-in heap of moralizing, and as a night out at the movies, they often feel interchangeable, forgettable, and condescending.

With one exception.

What these pictures have that a lot of studio pictures lack is a love for people simply talking. I don't mean the intellectual droning-on of a Woody Allen movie (although a little intellectual droning wouldn't hurt from time to time). But I cannot recall a broad Hollywood comedy of recent years that's more interested in the cadence and inflection in speech than the Barbershop movies. Of course, Cedric the Entertainer and Ice Cube never come out and put it that way, thankfully. Yet there is a definite music to their conversations.

In fact, I prefer it to a plot.

Which brings us back to Beauty Shop, an all-female spin-

off of the Barbershop films. Or as I call it, Be Careful What You Wish For.

Midway through this new Queen Latifah comedy/Cover Girl promotion, I had a eureka. Here, finally, was evidence of a theory I always suspected was true but could never prove: A movie with no story at all is preferable to a movie with a story you couldn't care less about. No storyline in a slasher picture, for instance, is easier to sit through than a slasher picture with a slew of psychological pretensions.

I'm talking 'bout you, Grudge.

Beauty Shop, on the other hand, is both proof that a movie can get by without a plot and that a plot can be a handy thing for a movie to include. Beauty Shop, you see, has no plot. None. Zero. Nada. To test this, when Beauty Shop reaches video, if your DVD player has a shuffle function, try the following: Watch it from start to finish. And then watch it on shuffle. My guess is, the order of the scenes will be as interchangeable as the scenes in your average sitcom.

Characters float in, do their bit, and float out. Every scene contains a small crisis that gets solved, or at least put on simmer, before the next scene is introduced. What happens today could happen tomorrow. To an extent, this is the Barbershop formula, a three-ring revue of insults, frank conversation, and catching up with good friends.

Queen Latifah - if you saw Barbershop 2 - was dropped into that formula for the sole purpose of making this picture. She had one funny verbal sparring with Cedric the Entertainer. That aside, playing a hairstylist at a nearby beauty parlor, she was more like evidence that Ice Cube's shop was not the only place in Chicago to get your hair cut south of the Loop. And because Eve's character had personality and was far more memorable, it's hard to argue that Queen Latifah brought a needed female perspective.

I always thought spinoffs were created to capitalize on characters who had become so popular, their stories needed concentrating on. Latifah plays Gina Norris, and the only connection to the folks back in Chicago is a small photo (doctored off the movie poster, I think). They've probably long forgotten her.

When we meet Gina, she's working for Kevin Bacon at a glitzy salon in Atlanta. If this were a sitcom, Bacon would be the Kramer. He wears an open shirt and the long stringy hair of a cocker spaniel. He adopts a Euro accent. A little goes a long way. He brings a lot.

He's threatened by Gina, who always does the right thing. This makes him look ineffectual in his own $450-a-perm chop shop, and gives us, I suppose, the making of what could be called a plot. Gina leaves to fix up an old building and start her own salon. Naturally the lease comes with a handful of musical montages. Gina and her mother and sister and daughter fix up the place and dance to Parliament's "Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" and when clients start trickling in, Kevin Bacon gets nervous. There's intrigue.

Actually, no. No, there isn't.

Whatever fun there is in Beauty Shop is in listening to the cast talk about breast implants and the new male (possibly gay) stylist. The conversation, though, eventually isn't that interesting, or as wide-ranging or frank as it was in Barbershop - which found time to talk about gentrification and the myths surrounding black leaders. Alfre Woodard quotes a little Maya Angelou. Alicia Silverstone (as the sole white stylist) wants to understand why she isn't accepted by her co-workers.

So she gets a towering Patti LaBelle 'do, and they accept her. What I liked about Barbershop is the conversation wasn't afraid to puncture presumptions like that. Beauty Shop is too polite.

Whenever the talk gets heated, whenever someone gets down to brass tacks, Andie MacDowell arrives to praise her new love of collard greens, or Djimon Hounsou shows up as the electrician in the apartment upstairs. He arrives at the door with his shirt hanging open and asks if this is the place with the bad wiring, and if Cedric were around, he'd say what we were all thinking:

I saw this in a porno once.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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