No chair has been reserved for dainty circumspection in this parlor, an offshoot of the male-oriented Barbershop comedy franchise. Gina (Queen Latifah) appeared in last year's Barbershop 2: Back in Business has moved to Atlanta where she reigns supreme as proprietress of her own establishment. The gals buzzing around her share her knack for telling it like it is, demonstrating women can be as crude as men and are definitely rougher on each other, at least verbally. Their banter can politely be described as concerning the intersection of gender and race. Truth be told, it's mostly about sex and the things women will do in order to get it.
African-American female fulfillment is taken literally yet the funkiness seems superficial. The first Barbershop managed to be funny and socially insightful about the African-American male experience in Chicago. Beauty Shop comes under the heading "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about a Bikini Wax but Were Too Afraid To Ask". This hormonally hyper-charged emporium for dirty talk lacks sparkle and subtlety and suggests women aren't above objectifying each other based on appearances.
Gina has relocated so her daughter can attend a performing arts school and is a much-in-demand stylist at the salon of Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon), a shrill and chi-chi fop catering to white socialites. Jealous of Gina's popularity, Jorge harasses her until she quits in a huff and decides to open her own place. The trip from Jorge's to the 'hood takes a brief detour through the bank, where she lands a small business loan by giving the dowdy loan officer a makeover in the loo.
With the exception of the electrician/pianist upstairs, the possibly gay stud she hires, and a neighborhood scamp who tries to sweet talk women, Gina's is a ladies domain. The ensemble includes Alfre Woodard reciting Maya Angelou poems with abandon, a wide-eyed pregnant woman who's given some good quips, two hotties with attitude, and Catfish Rita, peddling greens and fattening delicacies from her pushcart. The role of white interloper Troy Garrity took in Barbershop goes to Alicia Silverstone as a shaoo girl with a backwoods Southern drawl that makes Ellie Mae Clampett sound urbane. Gina dispenses sex advice to a rich client (Andie Macdowell) recommending sex toys and urging her to be a freak in the bedroom.
Another white client played by Mena Suvari defects from Jorge's and has a boob job that becomes a point of contention. The black women scoff, accusing her, and white women in general, of resorting to plastic surgery to get the fulsome figures black women come by naturally. A positive interpretation of this thematic strand is that black women are more self-assured and satisfied with themselves. In one exchange, Gina asks her daughter whether "these pants make my butt look big?" "Yeah, they do," is the answer. "Perfect" she exclaims. Throughout, a radio DJ describes her romantic exploits, encouraging the women of Atlanta to realize each and every one of their dreams -- though wild sex takes precedence over starting your own business.
A couple of the more vulgar sexual references test PG-13 rating. The glorified sitcom gets into worse trouble when it veers into the serious however. Bacon's caricature is too absurd to be threatening and Gina's attempt to market her secret conditioner -- referred to as "hair crack" -- and her daughter's switch from playing classical music to jazz don't add any body.
Should anyone doubt Gina is a genuine Soul Mama, she has an abrupt romance with a stud from the motherland (Djimon Hounsou). But her trials and tribulations can't hold a candle to those of the heroines in two recent dramas Woman, Thu Art Loosed and Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In Beauty Shop, the worst forms of discrimination are based on physical appearances -- and skin color isn't the primary one.
(Released by MGM and rated 'PG-13" for sexual material, language and brief drug references.)