Television shows spin-off characters all the time - Matt LeBlanc leaves Friends for Joey and Cheers gives way to Frasier. Not so in movies, where producers frequently tease similar spin-offs but rarely make the big-budget steps to actually get these projects off the ground. For every Elektra, for example, there are promised X-Men franchises waiting to be built around Wolverine and Magneto.
Bucking the odds, MGM's Beauty Shop spins off from the successful Barbershop comedies, taking Queen Latifah's sassy stylist Gina Norris from the second installment and setting her up in a potential franchise all her own.
There are spin-off rules to follow, of course. First, the character has to move to a whole new city, so Gina skips from Chicago - site of the Barbershop flicks - to sunny Atlanta, where her daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) has enrolled in a private music school. Second, we need a new backdrop on which to play. Director Billie Woodruff and his screenwriting team fill that need with a subplot where Gina invests in her own shop, renovating a dilapidated storefront into the hottest hair haven in town.
Finally, we need a colorful cabaret of stock supporting players, which Beauty Shop all but overdoses on. Run down the checklist and you'll find the clueless but eager young stylist (Alicia Silverstone, butchering a Southern accent), the handsome and generous love interest living above the shop (Djimon Hounsou), and the exaggerated antagonist (an overly effeminate Kevin Bacon) who's bound to make life difficult at the most inopportune time.
Woodruff even divides Beauty into a series of individual bite-sized conflicts that would fit snuggly in a half-hour sitcom. MGM missed a golden opportunity to convert this franchise into a midseason replacement on a willing television network. We'd already have built-in episodes. Here's the one where Gina bails her self-absorbed niece (Keisha Knight Pulliam) out of jail. Here's the one where Gina's homegrown conditioner almost makes her an overnight sensation. Here's the one where Gina hires a metrosexual to attract more customers to her joint. And here's the one where the building inspector threatens to shut Gina's shop down.
Latifah makes these endeavors worth your while. The affable star brings out the best in those around her, including the opinionated women who frequent her chairs. If only she could work her magic on the script, which could use stronger laugh lines. Beyond the frank sex talk (who knew women were so candid in curlers?), there's a noticeable racial divide separating the Beauty bunch. Every white character, from Bacon's swishy salon owner to Silverstone's naïve hick, is made to look buffoonish, shallow, or ignorant. Other jokes wallow in dated racial issues. When Gina hires a Caucasian stylist, an angry African-American woman shouts, "You ain't tryin' to brighten up the place, you tryin' to whiten up the place."
Who knew such hostility still existed in Hot-lanta, unofficial capital city of the liberated New South? Well it doesn't, and proud Southerners who pay good money to see Shop sully their reputations know better. But Hollywood certainly likes to think that's how most people talk down in the deep-fried South. Just ask Jeff Foxworthy, right? Looks like we've got a long way to go before that particular stereotype changes on screen.
Smell my finger.