Queen Latifah's warmly formidable presence drives this amiable but poky comedy, loosely spun off from Ice Cube's popular BARBERSHOP pictures. Widowed stylist Gina Norris (Latifah) has relocated from Chicago to Atlanta so her talented little girl, Vanessa (Paige Hurd), can attend a prestigious music school. They move in with her down-to-earth mother-in-law Paulette (Laura Hayes) and Paulette's lazy, airheaded daughter, Darnelle (Keshia Knight Pulliam), who never met a sleazy player she didn't like. Gina makes good money working for swishy poseur Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon), but Jorge's snippy, condescending backbiting works her nerves. So she quits, finagles a modest bank loan and opens her own place. She hires her friend Lynn (Alicia Silverstone), a backwoods white gal with a flair for black hair, fires the African-American stylists who don't want to work with Little Miss Wonder Bread and starts whipping the rest of the shop's shameless caricatures — perpetually pregnant Ida (Sherri Shepherd), snooty Chanel (Golden Brooks) and Maya Angelou-quoting Miss Josephine (Alfre Woodard) — into shape. Gina meets a mighty fine man (Djimon Hounsou), spars with a weaselly inspector from the state licensing board, teaches manners to an underage booty bandit (Lil' JJ), gets Darnelle to start acting right and hires handsome ex-con James (Bryce Wilson), who everyone assumes is gay because he carries a man bag. Its broad-stroke characterizations dispensed with, the film settles into a sitcom rhythm, setting up a string of sketches that poke toothless fun at hoochie mamas, uptight white folks, Afrocentric divas, no-account black men and light-in-the-loafers Eurotrash. The film's driving force is the freewheeling banter between stylists and customers, and it's also what separates the men from the ladies: While BARBERSHOP (2002) and BARBERSHOP 2 (2004) bristle with blistering bits about politics, civil rights, racial identity and, of course, sex, the girls just talk sassy about boys and beauty. And for all their supposed frankness, the humor is so gently raunchy it's almost wholesome. There's no Cedric the Entertainer on hand to hone the shoptalk to blood-drawing sharpness, just Latifah dispensing sage counsel, delivering impromptu esteem-building lectures and throwing her big, beautiful booty around on her girls' behalf. All that positive energy is in keeping with the film's kinder, gentler vibe, but it's not very interesting.
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