Latifah can wash my hair anytime!

“Beauty Shop”

MGM Movies

Directed by Billie Woodruff

Written by Kate Lanier & Norman Vance Jr.

Starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Djimon Hounsou and Kevin Bacon

Opened April 1, 2005

Rated PG-13/113 min

Three out of four stars

Movie critics caught a lot of flak last February when “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” drew nearly unanimous pans. The caustic mix of soap opera and broad comedy just didn’t jive with the nation’s critics, whose opinions were written off as snobbish-or worse, racist.

Granted, most of the nation’s movie critics are white, but the majority of those individuals are also objective and empathetic. Watch “Mad Black Woman” and then watch “Beauty Shop,” another movie that focuses on a primarily black cast. You’ll see that the former condescends to its audience and the latter wins audience members over with its warmth and restraint.

“Beauty Shop” stars Queen Latifah as Gina, a talented hair stylist working at one of those salons with sleek metal counters and a Euro trash owner named Jorge (played by Kevin Bacon, pimping up his metrosexuality to 11). Gina is a good woman, confident in her body, strong in her personality and smart enough not to put up with Jorge’s bitching forever.

Gina quits and opens up her own salon. For the uninitiated, “Beauty Shop” is a spin-off of the highly successful “Barbershop” movies, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Gina staffs her salon with a funny bunch of loud mouths, including Alfre Woodard as a disciple of Maya Angelou and Alicia Silverstone as a folksy white girl.

“Beauty Shop” doesn’t reinvent the story-telling wheel. When Djimon Hounsou shows up as a hunky electrician who also happens to be an awesome pianist, unmarried and good with kids, Gina resists at first, but the audience is already tying a pretty, red bow on their inevitable relationship.

Like a warm cookie and a glass of milk, “Beauty Shop” is sweet and goes down easy. Manufactured plot elements show up right on cue, like the merciless inspector and a vengefully jealous Jorge, but that’s OK. Director Billie Woodruff and screenwriters Kate Lanier and Norman Vance Jr. create very likable characters with very specific personalities. There are no big dramatics or pistol-packing grannies (thank God), just some women, a salon and their personalities pinballing off one another in a very amiable way.

Latifah and Silverstone are particularly sunny and vivacious, and the salon is always packed with a colorful gallery of supporting characters.

Like a good conditioner, “Beauty Shop” is packaged well and volumizes the spirit. It rinses out quickly, but while it soaks, it leaves a smile on your face.

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