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Not the Sharpest Shears On the 'Barbershop' Block

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page C01

It appears, alas, that we women have been missing out: If Queen Latifah's new flick "Beauty Shop" gets it right, the guys in the barbershops not only get out cheaper, they also get better entertainment.

"Beauty Shop," a spinoff from the popular "Barbershop" films starring Ice Cube, is mildly amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with much of its humor playing off foolish white folks and gay stereotypes. And booty jokes, of course -- the main gag in the film's trailer centers on how pleased Latifah is with her ample behind.

Lynn (Alicia Silverstone), left, Ida (Sherri Shepherd) and Chanel (Golden Brooks) mind someone else's business. (Sam Emerson -- MGM)

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What's thin is the social commentary tucked into the banter of the "Barbershop" franchise, which got much of its fun -- and some controversy -- out of trash-talking everyone from Michael Jackson to Kobe Bryant to Rosa Parks.

Reprising the role she played in "Barbershop 2," Queen Latifah is stylist Gina Norris, who has left Ice Cube's shop in Chicago to move to Atlanta so that her gifted daughter can enroll in a top-notch music school. When the film opens, she's working in a swanky downtown salon owned by Kevin Bacon -- that is, Kevin Bacon with a quasi-Euro accent, long hair with highlights, the name "Jorge Christophe" and a tendency to start sentences with "girlfriend" (you do the math).

Jorge is, shall we say, a less than stellar boss, what with his demeaning comments, excessive demands and ceaseless fixation on polishing his own reputation. So Latifah packs up and scrapes together the money to buy an aging storefront in a dodgy part of town where she plans to run her own shop.

That's pretty much the plot. Jorge reappears as the bad guy trying to sabotage Gina's success and there's some minimal romance between Gina and the electrician upstairs (Djimon Hounsou), but this is a story dependent upon the laughs generated by those frank-as-all-get-out conversations to be had inside the beauty shop.

Gina's staff includes Alfre Woodard as Miss Josephine (who is prone to quoting Maya Angelou), Golden Brooks as smart-mouthed Chanel and Sherri Shepherd as the pregnant Ida, who does not have a filter. Keshia Knight Pulliam (remember Rudy from "The Cosby Show"?) plays Gina's irresponsible sister, who hasn't met a bad boy she doesn't like.

A lot of the humor plays off the white characters, particularly Lynn, the shampoo girl who defected from Jorge's joint along with Gina. Played by Alicia Silverstone, Lynn is a country girl with a hick accent and a whole lot of girl-next-door naivete. She tries way too hard to fit in -- she gets a new hairstyle, changes the way she dresses and lands a black boyfriend -- and nothing gets a bigger laugh than the sight of her out with the other women at a club, trying valiantly to shake her (minimal) booty on the dance floor.

Lynn's boyfriend, James (Bryce Wilson), the only man who works for Gina, is an ex-con who drinks tea with his pinkie up. The joke here is that Silverstone is the only one who doesn't automatically know that the guy is just so obviously gay.

Latifah is, well, Latifah playing herself -- funny, brash, smart, likable and not willing to take any garbage from anyone. Andie MacDowell is amusing as a social X-ray with a cheating husband; she stops patronizing Jorge's shop because she just can't live without Latifah's talents, and ends up discovering the pleasures of greens and monkey bread. And Mena Suvari fills out the cast as another one of Gina's converts, a shallow, pampered prima donna who shows up at the shop one day with impossibly large -- and expensive -- implants, prompting Ida to announce: "Girl, you could have bought yourself a Saturn with that!"

Beauty Shop (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations and minor drug references.

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