A spin-off of a sequel, Beauty Shop plays like most Hollywood comedies these days -- as tepid sitcom, benign product and cynical afterthought. If last year's Barbershop 2: Back in Business was little more than a dilapidated retread of the charmingly lightweight 2002 hit Barbershop, consider this incarnation condemned for teardown; it should have never opened its doors. It's almost a note-for-note redo of its predecessors, with genders swapped for some attempt at freshening up the stale leftovers. But it feels like such a give-up, a listless retracing of steps originally taken to the bank by Ice Cube, star and producer of the first two films and executive producer here. You should be allowed to pay for your tickets to this phony movie with counterfeit money, if only to keep things honest. You know it's lousy when a preview audience turns on it, rebelling against not only the idle, sagging storytelling but also the corny, predictable plot twists. The laughs quickly turned to snickers, the cheers to jeers. You go, girlfriend -- exit's that way.
If you've seen either of Beauty Shop's predecessors, you've seen this -- could have written it, too, and probably done a far better job than Kate Lanier (Glitter, an abomination) and Norman Vance Jr. (Moesha), who worked from a story by Elizabeth Hunter (The Fighting Temptations, one of the many movies for which Cuba Gooding Jr. should have returned his Oscar). It would be unwise to damn it for its predictability -- what Hollywood movie doesn't unveil its every revelation before the opening credits? -- but for its hostility toward the audience. It doesn't even try to be different, because it assumes the moviegoer wants only the same-ol' and then offers even less.
Cube's Calvin, the right-on barber who inherited his old man's shop and had to protect the building from the advances of crooked businessmen in two straight movies, has been replaced by Queen Latifah's Gina, the former's love interest in Barbershop 2. She, too, is up to her neck in pains in the neck, specifically her former boss Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon), a would-be Eurotrash salon owner with split ends and a press-on accent, and the state inspector who keeps fining Gina for imaginary violations in order to shut her down. But the subplot involving the future of the salon is hardly worth mentioning; anyone who doubts a happy ending hasn't seen Beauty Shop's predecessors or, for that matter, any movie ever made.
Lanier and Vance, working with director Bille Woodruff -- who directed the ghastly Jessica Alba vehicle Honey, a car with three wheels -- apparently felt they could take the first two movies' screenplays, replace men with women and women with men, and move locales, and that would be enough to justify their paychecks. The Chicago barbershop is now an Atlanta beauty shop. The elder statesman, Cedric the Entertainer's Eddie, is now an elder stateswoman named Terri, played by Alfre Woodard, whose lines of dialogue consist almost solely of Maya Angelou poems recited with only a slight hint of parody.
The white guy played by Troy Garity is now the white girl played by oh-so-that's-what-happened-to Alicia Silverstone, whose accent is pitched somewhere between Suth'n and Eastern European. (She's supposed to be from Blue Ridge, Georgia, but speaks with such a decided twang that it sounds like she's chewing on a banjo; most of her lines are indecipherable, which is just as well.) The ex-con played by Michael Ealy is now the ex-con played by Bryce Wilson, who already appeared in a movie just like this only last year (Hair Show; its poster read "Beyond the Beauty Shop," so take that). And on and on it goes. But it's so easy to replace characters when they're mere caricatures. Even Djimon Hounsou is cast in the cardboard role of Joe, the upstairs hermit-electrician who plays piano like Thelonious Monk and surrounds himself with African artifacts and Langston Hughes books; it's almost a parody of his role in In America, only without the AIDS. But he's lucky: Half the folks introduced in this movie don't even get names, so meaningless are they to the story. Speaking of which, what story?
The entire movie's nothing more than punch lines without jokes, episodes without endings, plot holes without putty. It strives for tension but can't even bother to work up a case of the fidgets, creeping along for its first 100 minutes till finally squeezing in all its disasters and resolutions during the last fifteen. (The movie goes on so long, I thought I was watching not only Beauty Shop but its sequel, too.) And characters act one way in one scene, then another in the very next: In an instant, American Beauty's Mena Suvari, playing a loyal, wealthy customer of Gina's from way back, goes from being Gina's guardian angel to her betrayer. See this, and you'll know just how she feels.