2 stars (out of four)
In fairness to "The Salon," which seems a kind of afterthought to the "Barbershop" twosome, this new movie, written and directed by Mark Brown, actually dates back to the late '80s, when Shelly Garrett launched his "Beauty Shop," a touring stage comedy that proved a commercial phenomenon.
Silly, superficial and incidentally riotous, "Beauty Shop" attracted legions of black audiences underserved back then by mainstream theatrical producers.Great art, it wasn't, but it provided harmless entertainment and gave employment to scores of actors, touring successfully for years, including multiple engagements at the Arie Crown Theater here. Now, belatedly, comes Brown's adaptation, updated and renamed, though in essence boasting many of the play's charms and shortcomings: It's silly, superficial and incidentally riotous.
This version (with a substantially altered plot line) tells of Jenny (Vivica A. Fox), the owner of a hair salon in a rough-and-tumble Baltimore neighborhood. The city is about to shut down the shop, planning to replace it with a parking lot. On the day the story occurs, Jenny is nearing the end of her negotiations with Michael (Darrin Henson), a handsome attorney representing the city's interests and, potentially, a love interest for her. Jenny, meanwhile, hasn't had the heart to break the news to her handful of employees or the neighborhood denizens who hang out at the shop as if it were an ad hoc social club.
They include Lashaunna (Kym Whitley), a sharp-%tongued, zaftig single woman; Ricky (Dondre Whitfield), a salon stylist with a taste for white women; and D.D. (De'Angelo Wilson), an outrageously flamboyant gay employee. Other characters include a scrappy senior citizen played by Garrett Morris and an abusive boyfriend, played in a cameo by Terrence Howard.
The jokes, peppered with topical digs, include Lashaunna's list of hot men, Bill Clinton included. "I would have done what Monica did and more," she says. "I'd a been like, 'My bad, Hillary. I got to do this for my country.'." In one of the bits wherein D.D. embodies as outlandish a gay stereotype as any in memory, he asks, "What do you call jail for a gay man?" The answer: "Paradise."
The rush to employ tabloid topics for laughs includes an unfortunate reference to Anna Nicole Smith, clearly filmed prior to her death. Most of the humor is harmless, if fairly standard and old hat. Brown softens the barbs and snaps with treacle and sermonizing, providing D.D. with a gay rights speech and crafting the story as one of an ethnic David shrewdly outmaneuvering the government Goliath, complete with a fetching surprise twist. The sentiments are worthy, but the presentation didactic.
And they don't excuse the wealth of tiresome stereotypes.
But Brown's direction is more accomplished, and the cast members turn in likable performances. Fox is bewitching, grounded, sweet and real, while Whitley is a ferocious and funny motor-mouth and Whitfield a fresh and subtly edged hunk. (There's a choice scene wherein he and D.D. patch up their straight boy/gay boy differences in a way that allows them an awkward, amusing moment of intimacy.)
The main problem with the movie is the by now shopworn nature of its setting. Been there, snipped it. Though dating from venerable material, "The Salon" turns out to be one haircut too many.
Directed by Mark Brown; screenplay by Brown; photographed by Brandon Trost; edited by Earl Watson; production design by Tiffany Zappulla; produced by Brown, Carl Craig and Vivica A. Fox. A Bigger Picture release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:32. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some thematic material).
Jenny - Vivica A. Fox
Michael - Darrin Henson
Lashaunna - Kym Whitley
Ricky - Dondre WhitfieldCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times