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MOVIE REVIEW

A crowded salon that's stylishly cute

It's easier to tell you who's not in ''Beauty Shop" than who is. This formulaic but extremely good-natured comedy spins Queen Latifah off from the ''Barbershop" franchise, lands her in Atlanta, and surrounds her with a chick-flick supporting cast that almost supports her right out of the movie. Which, when you think about it, isn't a simple task. But the star doesn't seem to mind and, as long as you go in with expectations set medium to low, neither will you. The film's like a crowded backyard picnic, and I mean that as a compliment.

Latifah's Gina Norris was in ''Barbershop 2" just long enough to sow the seed for this nonsequel (executive produced, as always, by Ice Cube, who's a no-show in front of the camera). In ''Beauty Shop," she's a widow who's relocated back home so 11-year-old daughter Vanessa (Paige Hurd) can study classical piano at a performing arts school. Bunking with mother-in-law Paulette (Laura Hayes) and bratty homegirl sister-in-law Darnelle (Keshia Knight Pulliam), Gina gets a job styling hair at a downtown salon run by Jorge, a snippy Euro-metrosexual played by Kevin Bacon with open shirt and Sarah Jessica Parker's hair. The actor is strident and obvious, but he's clearly having fun, and if nothing else, the movie now puts the entire Hollywood African-American community within two degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Push comes to shove, and Gina quits to set up her own shop in the SWATS neighborhood (Southwest Atlanta), taking flaky country-girl shampooist Lynn (Alicia Silverstone) along. Like Bacon, Silverstone is amusing enough with her cornpone Southern accent, but she's not doing her career any favors -- Lynn is here purely to fill the designated white-stylist slot established by Troy Garity in ''Barbershop." The rest of Gina's crew is an all-shapes-and-sizes contingent of underserved African-American actresses, from pregnant Ida (Sherri Shepherd), pretty and sharp-tongued Chanel (Golden Brooks, from UPN's ''Girlfriends"), and -- in the Cedric the Entertainer mouthy-oldster role -- Miss Josephine, played by Alfre Woodard with kente cloth and liberal helpings of Maya Angelou.

Cute stuff, and ''Beauty Shop" further courts the ''Diary of a Mad Black Woman" core demo by casting hunky Bryce Wilson as an is-he-gay-or-not? male stylist. Then it tears the roof off the sucker by throwing in Djimon Hounsou as Gina's love interest, a jazz pianist who lives upstairs and -- sigh -- plays a lot of Stevie Wonder. With his shirt off.

You think I'm done? Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari turn up as two wealthy white Atlantans who defect to Gina's shop, the former neurotically enslaved to her sports lawyer husband until the local soul-food delivery cart gives her self-esteem and some serious back, and the latter a ''Botox Barbie" who comes in for some nasty jibes concerning her breast implants. In ''Beauty Shop," what God gave you is good enough, and, generally speaking, the bigger the better.

Teenage comedian Lil JJ shows up as a kiddie rap wannabe -- he gets most of the film's harmless booty jokes -- and Russell Simmons's wife is in there somewhere. Somebody even dug dear old Della Reese out of mothballs for a cameo, and if Pearl Bailey wasn't dead, she'd probably be here, too.

What there isn't much of is a plot. You may not miss it. There's something about a mean building-code inspector and Jorge's revenge, but it's drowned out by the formidable old school/new school soundtrack, the tired but foolproof wisecracks, the air of you-go-girl camaraderie, and Latifah's genial authority. The breakthroughs in ''Beauty Shop" are small -- a heroine who's not an anorexic twig yet who still gets the guy with six-pack abs, an interracial couple who aren't that big a deal beyond prompting the comment that ''MTV is the devil" -- but they're there. As to the rest, resistance may be futile.

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