By this point, the Barbershop franchise has settled into a comfortable formula: Take one sturdy hip-hop icon surrounded by a supporting cast of zany would-be scene stealers, throw in a few halfhearted subplots, then sit back and watch the lucre pile up. As a spin-off to a lukewarm sequel, Beauty Shop hasn't exactly been given a strong mandate to mess with a moneymaking paradigm. And though the film's ads highlight its weak assortment of fading Caucasian actors, Beauty Shop is very much an African-American comedy. In Beauty Shop, white folks assume the same role they did in '70s blaxploitation movies: loathsome heavies or broad comedic stereotypes. Andie MacDowell's role, in particular, crosses the line between "good-hearted celebrity cameo" and "thankless bit part." Still spiraling after TV's Miss Match, Alicia Silverstone similarly illustrates just how far her career has fallen as she wrestles heroically, though fruitlessly, with a Southern accent seemingly patterned on Britney Spears' white-trash drawl.
Like most spin-offs, Beauty Shop wastes little time in establishing a shaky connection to its source material, as Queen Latifah, starring as a sassy hairstylist, hangs a fake-looking photo of herself with the Chicago Barbershop gang at her new workplace, a chic Atlanta salon run by the autocratic Kevin Bacon. When Latifah chafes under Bacon's snide condescension, she starts her own beauty shop with little more than some inadequate seed money, a big dream, and a whole lot of moxie. But Bacon isn't about to let Latifah steal his customer base, so he engages in some shenanigans to undercut his competition.
Like Barbershop 2: Back In Business, Beauty Shop is weighed down by subplots that don't even seem to interest the filmmakers themselves. Will Latifah find love with hunky, soulful love interest Djimon Hounsou? What about the sinister government goon threatening to shut down the shop? And will grown-up Cosby Kid Keshia Knight-Pulliam be able to resist the fast life promised by boyfriend Baby of Big Tymers fame? The perfect Barbershop movie would involve an hour and a half of lively, vibrant conversation and laid-back neighborhood atmosphere, unhindered by obligatory plot points, but it looks like the original is the closest the series will get to that ideal. Beauty Shop's shtick gets old and tired pretty quickly, but a breezy tone and air of easygoing likeability carry it a long way. Just as Latifah comes to rely on Silverstone in the film, Beauty Shop proves that black actors and white actors can transcend racial boundaries to create affable mediocrities like this agreeable, flimsy time-waster.