Unstylish: Stereotypes way out of date


If there's one overriding reason we can't all just get along it's because conflict sells. Beauty Shop (B.S. for short, which is apropos) was made by people with nothing but economic principles.

The Barbershop movies succeeded– and reached a significant crossover (i.e., white) audience– because they were honest, funny portraits of the African American community. The new spin-off is sometimes funny but totally dishonest in the way it panders to the lowest common denominators of both blacks and whites with a mixture of retro and modern stereotypes of both races.

Oueen Latifah can't help but shine as sassy, earth motherly Gina, the only fully rounded human being in the cast of wildly exaggerated characters. Introduced in Barbershop 2 so she could be spun off in this one, the widowed Gina has moved to Atlanta and taken a job in the salon of Eurotrash poseur Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon with streaky, stringy hair that should frighten away the staff, let alone the customers).

Having taken all the abuse she can stand, Gina quits Jorge and opens her own shop in a less prestigious location. She overcomes all the contrived problems the script can throw at her, such as a city inspector whose arrival at the worst possible moments is too convenient to be coincidental, even in such a formulaic work as this.

Gina builds a staff, including some (e.g., Alfre Woodard, having a high time playing a low-class woman who knows the works of Maya Angelou by heart) who had worked for the former owner and a couple of discoveries of her own: Jorge's former shampoo girl, Alicia Silverstone, who usually remembers she's supposed to be Southern; and Bryce Wilson as a hunk who shows all the signs of being gay but keeps the women guessing.

Some of Gina's white clients drift over from Jorge's, notably neglected wife Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari, who's proud of her new store-bought (at "$8000 a pop") breasts.

There's potential romance for Gina in Joe (Djimon Hounsou), the electrician who lives above the shop and whose piano playing provides an unexpectedly rich soundtrack. He also gives advice ("Listen to your heart, and your fingers will follow") to Gina's daughter (Paige Hurd).

Among the neighbors who furnish local color are Willie (Lil' JJ), a booty-obsessed adolescent collecting footage for his music video. Della Reese wisely makes a vivid impression and gets out fast, but most of the huge ensemble is in it for the long haul. One gets the impression a black person wrote the white roles and vice versa, so misguided are the stereotypes.

As a primer on race relations, Beauty Shop seems stuck in 1975, especially for a progressive city like Atlanta. And who had the bright idea to hire Bille Woodruff (Honey), who couldn't direct himself into a paper bag, let alone out of one?

The good news is that in the last scene, the people of Beauty Shop finally begin to feel like a community, so this movie ends where Barbershop began. That bodes well for the seemingly inevitable sequel.