Shocking as it may seem, this estrogen spin-off of the popular Barbershop franchise actually breaks new ground, if only in proving that a picture with a holy trinity of overrated, bad actresses — Andie MacDowell, Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari — can still be something somewhat worth watching.

Far be it from Queen Latifah to let a bunch of one-dimensional white girls mess up her funniest effort since she rocked the jailhouse as Mama Morton in Chicago — although this movie is nowhere near as grand.

While not a sequel, the movie closely mirrors the formula established by its hairy predecessors. Latifah stars as Gina, who moved from Chicago to Atlanta to start her own shop and give her daughter a better life. The Barbershop elements are all there: the straight-talking shop owner, the struggle with competitors and authorities to keep the place open, the wacky staff and the out-of-place white people.

Latifah has never been short on charisma, and Beauty Shop shows she can carry a movie on her own. That’s good, because after her post-Chicago appearances in Taxi, Scary Movie 3 and The Cookout, her loyal subjects are due for a reminder as to why they should all hail the Queen.

This is, after all, an age when many of rap’s elite have gone the way of Sears, showing their softer sides with projects like Ice Cube’s kiddie road trip flick Are We There Yet? and her majesty’s own jazz-lite CD, The Dana Owens Album.

Beauty Shop treads safely on the soft side. Moderate laughs come by way of palatable racial humor, tame battles of the sexes and modest displays of female sassiness. Heck, Living Single had edgier fare.

The aforementioned overrated white girls don’t help the situation. Not that anyone expects Silverstone to actually act, but her Southern accent is so atrocious, so overly country fried, you just know her mama never served sweet tea or grits. She almost makes MacDowell and Suvari look dignified.

Leave it to the more accomplished vets in the supporting cast to take worthier risks. Alfre Woodard, regal in her own right, takes over for Cedric the Entertainer as the older, out-there employee. As Woodard’s Maya Angelou-obsessed Miss Josephine would put it, she’s funny — phenomenally. Even
the omnipresent Kevin Bacon shows up, standing out as Lars, sporting long, highlighted locks and Eurotrash panache.

Had the director, writers and other actors taken cues from Woodard and Bacon, maybe the film would have had as much soul as it has heart. While somewhat funnier than Barbershop 2, this chick flick is a lot like the original Barbershop with an up-do.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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