Beauty Shop sticks so closely to the Barbershop template, it's as much a female replica of those films as Ms. Pac-Man is a female version of Pac-Man. Queen Latifah builds on her cameo role from Barbershop 2: Back in Business, taking over the central role from Ice Cube and trying to open her own salon in Atlanta. Add in Alicia Silverstone, echoing Barbershop's white hairdresser "trying to be black," and another generous helping of workplace debates on contemporary issues (here instigated by a sassy radio DJ), and you've got a pretty strict adherence to a pretty successful formula. Not the tired retread one might expect, however, Beauty Shop bursts with life, having attracted a spectrum of enthusiastic performers and a script (by a trio of female writers) that provides them enough depth to exceed broad character types. Beauty Shop displays a curious ambivalence about riding the coattails of its predecessors -- it certainly relies on the name recognition, but the only cursory reference to the earlier films is that Gina hails from Chicago, where they were set. Perhaps that's due to carving out its own identity as a crossover film; Andie MacDowell, Mena Suvari, and Kevin Bacon (vamping wildly as a Eurotrash salon owner) join Silverstone in comprising the white half of a truly multicultural cast. Beauty Shop values its female-ness over its ethnicity, as many of the issues surround how men treat their women and how women can compete in a man's world. Latifah is the den mother overseeing this hub of intersecting lives, always displaying the confidence and character that has turned her into an A-list star. The result is a mostly witty and observant piece of feminism lite, one that doesn't need a man -- or the largely male movie that spawned it -- to walk tall.
by Derek Armstrong review