As annoying as brain-dead comedies like Norbit or Dirty Love can be, at least they're up-front about insulting viewers' intelligence—or assuming there's none to insult. In a way, "serious" fare like Mark Brown's long-shelved 2005 feature The Salon is worse, because it's so sanctimonious and sincere in its pandering. Even as it relentlessly talks down to its audience, it seems to want to believe that it's lifting them up.
In a wafer-thin plot "inspired by" Shelley Garrett's play Beauty Shop, Vivica A. Fox stars as the saintly proprietor of a run-down Baltimore hair salon endangered by a city plan for a new parking lot. While she alternately sulks over and cuddles up to sexy city lawyer Darrin Dewitt Henson, who might offer help—and, could it be, romance?—her impossibly large staff spends one shapeless day sniping and snickering over burning topics like Halle Berry's Oscar, all the things their mommas whupped them with, and of course, those crazy white folks. They also turn every event on the street into an excuse for a didactic, ridiculously artificial monologue. When two cars collide outside, Fox explains that the lack of a traffic signal is just another example of how "government don't care nothin' about us." When some teenagers egg mincing gay stylist De'Angelo Wilson, he tearfully lectures his friends about America's hypocrisy on gays, as represented by the military's anti-homosexual policy. Finally, Fox's wide-eyed son asks if a racist classmate was right: "Mom, we ain't do nothing important in American history?" Cue the lesson on African-American accomplishments.
That eye-roll-inducing preachiness helps kill any sense of drama; meanwhile the relentlessly fakey "We're havin' fun now!" air kills the comedy. Writer-director Mark Brown (writer-producer of Barbershop and Barbershop 2) mostly just observes the stylists being playfully bitchy, which might have made for a pleasant slice-of-life film if not for leaden dialogue, terrible jokes (an Asian manicurist is introduced solely to brag that she's now an "Amelican" who votes on "erection day"), horrible stereotypes (from loudmouth street hos to painfully white interlopers to Wilson's squealing pansy to Kym Whitley as a sassy big momma) and endless reaction shots, in which every speech is met by an extensive chorus of "Keep it real!" and "Tell the truth!", or alternately, "Girlfriend did not go there!" At least Norbit tried to come up with fresh new awfulness instead of idling in these familiar old ruts.