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An Everlasting Piece


An Everlasting Piece

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Funny though they may be, toupee gags can only carry a feature film so far. A wig can slip off a person's head, be removed accidentally or forcibly, or get switched with somebody else's, all to varying degrees of hilarity. Toupee gags cannot, however, service an overreaching metaphor for the bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. That's the conspicuously thin idea behind the double-entendre title of Barry Levinson's An Everlasting Piece, a quirky Bill Forsyth-inspired comedy that lends the Troubles some refreshing levity, but precious few insights or laughs. Though the material may seem like an odd step for a Hollywood director like Levinson, it's not far removed from the personal "Baltimore films" on which he's staked his reputation. An even cross between the story of the working-class aluminum-siding salesmen hawking their wares in 1987's Tin Men and the sharp, long-standing urban divide he explored in 1999's Liberty Heights, writer/star Barry McEvoy's slight premise finds Levinson surprisingly at ease in mid-'80s Belfast, almost to a fault. His complacency flattens the already uninspired story of two barbers from opposite sides of the "peace wall" who try to corner the toupee market in an area unusually rife with cases of male pattern baldness. McEvoy, a Catholic who lives with his extended family in a house on the border between rival neighborhoods, and Protestant partner Brian F. O'Byrne are cutting hair in an insane asylum when they learn of the Scalper (Billy Connolly), an inmate who had a monopoly on hairpieces. Once McEvoy and O'Byrne take over the business, they face opposition from a slick upstart company called Toupee Or Not Toupee and trouble from a client who also happens to be a local IRA boss. The effortless chemistry between the two leads and Levinson's delicate handling of sensitive issues ease what might have been an unmitigated disaster, but An Everlasting Piece is still a curious misfire, so light and inconsequential that it's a mystery why it was made at all. As with many other British Isles comedies, much of the local color is too cute for its own good—a segment confusing the words "hairpiece" and "herpes" is a low point—and the script gets sidetracked by ridiculous subplots. By the time a soldier's missing toupee prompts a full-scale investigation called Operation Glass Slipper, An Everlasting Piece has immersed itself in trivia.