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A letter to the queen: I hate to say I told you so


Dear Queen Latifah,

Have I turned into some sort of Tinseltown power broker? About a month ago I mentioned in this space that I would like to see Djimon Hounsou (In America, Constantine) as the love interest in a romantic comedy, and now we've got Beauty Shop! I can't help but conclude that you saw and really liked my idea, because it took only a few short weeks for this film to get written, cast, shot, edited, promoted, and distributed (well, either that or I'm really out of touch with what's happening in Hollywood). But I guess I forgot to suggest that the film be enjoyable as well. I'll remember that the next time I think in print.

I have to admit that I didn't see Barbershop 2, from which Beauty Shop was spun off. I'm assuming that it's not vital to understanding what's happening in this film, but let me see if I got it right.

Gina, played by you, has moved to Atlanta for a job in a swanky salon with a temperamental boss named Jorge (Kevin Bacon). After the plot-fueling tussle during which she pulls a couple of race cards, Gina decides to realize her dream of opening her own establishment. First there's the loan interview/extreme makeover (just how many race cards are in a race deck?), then the procurement of the shop, followed by the assembling of the stereotypes to make up Gina's staff (the bitchy one, the fertile one, the eccentric one, the ditzy one, and the gorgeous ex-con whose sexuality is the subject of great debate).

And then Gina meets a sensitive dream guy who can rewire her electrical (that's actually not a euphemism for anything) and successfully battles some attempts at sabotage. Beauty Shop ends with the requisite learning of the stuff, like tolerance, self-respect, and the joys of a bigger backyard.

I know you didn't direct Beauty Shop (that's music video director Bille Woodruff), or write it, but you did produce it and ostensibly sign off on all aspects. What message was this film trying to send? Gina's big on empowerment and spends a hell of a lot of time upbraiding various males for treating women as sex objects (especially the little pest that hangs around the shop). Yet as your character tries to enlighten, the camera spends so much time ogling chicks' behinds that the film could have been called Booty Shop.

Alicia Silverstone's character (the ditzy one) only gains acceptance after she tries to emulate her black co-workers, a situation I can't imagine anyone would green light in this day and age if the races were reversed. And did you really need to foster the gay stereotypes (the swishy hairdresser, that screaming queen with the handbags)? Bigotry just ain't funny.

And why not just go for the hard R instead of the PG-13? We both know that women cuss as much as men do, and since the ladies of the salon obviously minored in sex therapy at cosmetology school, it would have made more sense to use the swearing and allow the film to be a little less treacly. But changing the word in that Parliament jam to "mothersucker" should maybe tack another $15 million onto the gross. And it gave me a much-needed laugh. Thanks.

It goes without saying that you are a superb role model, and not just for women of a certain color or size. Your smarts, ambition, and creativity make you worthy of admiration from all. But, Oscar nomination for Chicago notwithstanding, you are one lousy actor. You're completely wooden and strangely sexless, which is a problem when you're the star of a movie and need to make the audience believe that the foxy, ivory-tickling, Langston Hughes-reading electrician upstairs doesn't have any more appealing offers.

I was right about Hounsou, though, wasn't I? All the attributes that I thought would make him a fine romantic leading man are on display: He's charming, charismatic, completely swoonworthy, and a very good actor to boot (he's got an Oscar nom himself, you know). It's not his fault that he has very little to do here and has absolutely no chemistry with his leading lady.

Hey, did you blackmail Kevin Bacon to get him to play Jorge? I'm imagining you soaking the master print of The Woodsman in blood and dangling it over a tub of piranhas as... um... what do actors call it? Oh, motivation. Alfre Woodard was a hoot and always classes up anything she takes part in --- her Afrocentric, Maya Angelou-quoting flake was the best thing about Beauty Shop.

And you must have some particularly vile dirt on B+ list stars Andie MacDowell, Alicia Silverstone, and Mena Suvari. I can't believe they would consent to embarrassing themselves like that (especially MacDowell), but they probably had nothing better to do. Also, the next time you get Della Reese for a movie, use her for more than one scene. She's pretty funny, and, oddly enough, she looks just like my grandma.

Incidentally, the name Queen Latifah may work when you're a hip-hop star, but unless you've ascended an actual throne somewhere, consider going back to your real name, Dana Owens. Even LL Cool J wants to use his (James Todd Smith) for the screen. And if you think it isn't catchy enough, maybe throw a "y" in the middle of your first name. My mom thinks it's exotic.



Beauty Shop (PG-13), starring Queen Latifah, Djimon Hounsou, Andie MacDowell, Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Kevin Bacon, Alfre Woodard. Canandaigua Theatres, Cinemark Tinseltown, Greece Ridge, Vintage Drive-In