THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL — ** 1/2 — Documentary feature about a beauty school in Afghanistan; with English subtitles (for Persian dialects); not rated, probable PG (violence, mild profanity).

The story behind "The Beauty Academy of Kabul" sounds more like fodder for a sitcom than the subject for a documentary feature.

It is about a group of women that includes some Afghani expatriates. They return years later to open a beauty school — in a country where many women are still forced to shroud themselves when they're in public.

The whole thing sounds as silly as it is unbelievable. Perhaps that explains why filmmaker Liz Mermin (2001's "On Hostile Ground") has tried to turn it into something lighthearted, even when some of the material demands a more serious approach.

That the film is even this watchable has to do more with the subjects themselves. And that's not referring to the Americans and Brits who are running the school — who are pretty insufferable.

Their Afghani students, some of whom ran their own "underground" salons while their city was under Taliban rule, are much more fascinating.

Most of these women live in or near Kabul, the Afghan capital, which is shown in the process of rebuilding and becoming "Westernized."

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Enter the various beautician "do-gooders," who are determined to open a hair cutting, dyeing and cosmetology school because they believe it is "progress."

Filmmaker Mermin has chosen to focus on so many women that few, if any, get to really tell their stories.

As superficial as it is, the film does feature a few laughs, such as a moment when the Afghani women are clearly not impressed with the Western beauty "secrets" — especially one instructor's insistence on using a hair dye shade that would be too gaudy even for a crayon color.

"The Beauty Academy of Kabul" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for a few violent images and scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based). Running time: 74 minutes.