Just one degree of separation now exists between Queen Latifah and Kevin Bacon. After seeing "Beauty Shop," you'll wish they'd never met.
Bacon bafflingly embarrasses himself here as the effeminate Austrian owner of an upscale Atlanta salon, whose cruel treatment prompts Latifah's Gina Norris, the hairstylist she played in "Barbershop 2," to open her own shop.
With his shaggy blond locks, orange fake-bake tan and tight shirts, Bacon's character, Jorge, resembles the runner-up in a Kato Kaelin lookalike contest forced to regurgitate lines like, "So when you get zee breast implants, huh?" Maybe he wanted a change of pace after his haunting performance last year as a reformed child molester in "The Woodsman." The world may never know.
Meanwhile, Gina's new staff consists of head-rolling, finger-wagging, chicken-and-waffle-eating ghetto stereotypes, with a clientele of white women who want to be just like them. Mena Suvari plays an uppity socialite who flirts ruthlessly with Gina's lone male employee, James (Bryce Wilson, and he IS gorgeous). Andie MacDowell crams collard greens into her mouth and ends up with an enviable booty.
Worst of all is Alicia Silverstone as Lynn, the salon's only white stylist, who initially is ostracized by her colleagues but ultimately earns their approval when she starts wearing her hair in elaborate styles like theirs and talking like them, albeit through the morass of a fake-sounding Southern twang. So much for accepting people for their differences.
It's easy to imagine why hip-hop-star-turned-actress Latifah would be drawn to this project -- she's also a producer -- based on the success of the "Barbershop" films and their spirited social commentary, at least in the first one.
Such dialogue is hard to find in "Beauty Shop," directed by longtime music video director Bille Woodruff ("Honey") and written by Kate Lanier ("Glitter") and Norman Vance Jr. (TV's "Girlfriends") from a story by Elizabeth Hunter ("The L Word").
Here, stylists including the perennially pregnant Ida (Sherri Shepherd) and the earthy Miss Josephine (Alfre Woodard, spouting lines from Maya Angelou) discuss topics like the need for bikini waxes and whether the metrosexual James is gay. The movie does have, however, the admirable message of appreciating female beauty in all its shapes and sizes -- and without the aid of plastic surgery.
Latifah manages to eke out a modicum of grace amid the hackneyed antics -- though the repeated mention of Cover Girl cosmetics, which Latifah endorses, is shameless. Paige Hurd also emerges unscathed as Gina's daughter, an aspiring pianist, as does Djimon Hounsou as the impossibly hot electrician who lives above the salon. (Although his suave, open-shirted arrival in the film, to fix Gina's faulty wiring, is the stuff porno flicks are made of.)
Seeing Latifah's charisma turned on full-blast, as it was in her Oscar-nominated "Chicago" performance, makes you long for something better for her, and for black women who are tired of having Hollywood depict them in such a cliched way.