Comedy about ambitious toupee salesmen in Northern Ireland not the sidesplitting cut-up it thinks it is
Catholic Colm and Protestant George are a pair of barbers who cut hair at a Belfast insane asylum "sometime during the 1980s" -- and based on that information alone you should be able to ascertain that "An Everlasting Piece" is supposed to be a comedy.
Add the fact that they've decided to go into the door-to-door toupee business (there is such a thing?), and this movie should have had me rolling in the aisles. Especially with a director like Barry Levinson ("Diner," "Liberty Heights," "Wag the Dog") at the helm. But while some members of the audience were laughing uncontrollably during a recent preview screening, about half of us were dead silent through the whole thing -- wondering what the rest of them found so amusing.
The plot of this screwball comedy is paper-thin: Colm (played by Barry McEvoy, the film's screenwriter) and George (Brian F. O'Byrne) are competing against a cross-town rug rival for exclusive rights to sell men's wigs in Northern Ireland. Why is the wig trade a monopoly-or-nothing business? Don't ask any logical questions of this movie because you won't get an answer. Such points shouldn't matter in a screwball comedy anyway, and had I been one of the laughers I probably would have forgiven such elements of nonsense.
But when a movie is a grab-bag of unsteady chuckles that depend on misunderstood accent gags (a customer thinks they're talking about "herpes" instead of "hair pieces") and "quirky family" bits, it needs something more substantial to rise above its bumbling Brit-com foundation.
Do you laugh at the idea of somebody's chain-smoking mother wearing underwear on her head to prevent the exhaled nicotine from making her hair brittle? If the answer is yes, "An Everlasting Piece" might be for you. If not, you're with me, and you probably won't laugh once after the movie's amusing opening sequence, in which illustrations are sketched on the screen John Madden-style over a shot of Colm's house, explaining its uncomfortable proximity to a "peace wall" separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.
Many of the picture's other set-ups are ripe with comic potential -- there's a run-in with a balding faction of the IRA, for example -- but "Piece" seems prematurely pleased with itself while frequently over-shooting its jokes.
Levinson directs this movie like a batting cage pitching machine, mechanically lobbing jokes at the audience, instead of being like a baseball coach concocting a strategy to win the game.
He fastballs mad dog Scottish comedian Billy Connelly into a few scenes, playing a lunatic convict called "The Scalper." He has Colm wrestle a pack of stray dogs that has run off with a customer's new hair. Our heroes have a run-in with the law after they're linked to a newly coifed IRA organizer.
But the jokes just aren't funny -- at least not to me. The characters' bumbling becomes annoying quickly, and the inevitable political proclamation subtext about The Troubles feels like a pat on the head from a playground teacher breaking up a fight between two second-graders.
Maybe I missed something, because the people who thought this movie was funny were clearly having a great time. But while I can sometimes fathom why others enjoy comedies that I can't stand (the "Austin Powers" movies, for example), I'm at a loss on this one.