An Everlasting Piece
directed by Barry Levinson
(Sony, 2000)

It's not often that the biggest presence in a comedy is the looming, lumbering form of an armored vehicle. Add a scalper, lots of armed citizens and a countryside that doubles as a war zone, and it's hard to see where the laughs will come from in An Everlasting Piece.

This is 1980s Northern Ireland, which, Dame Maggie Thatcher's economics notwithstanding, is not exactly rolling in job opportunities or peaceful existence for either Catholics or Protestants. Even so, the security offered to Colm at his new job -- prison barber -- is no match for the boredom.

But if he and his fellow barber, George, can just acquire one thing, they'll have some spare Sterling in no time: A list of clients who consulted with The Scalper, a former hairpiece salesman. He's now locked up after deciding to take a little too much off the top of several, uh, former clients.

Unfortunately, Colm (Barry McEvoy, who also wrote the script) and George (Brian O'Byrne) will have to duke it out with another hairpiece sales duo for exclusive rights to Northern Ireland. Whichever pair sells the most rugs by midnight Christmas Eve wins the contract. So Colm and George, Catholic and Protestant, decide to form "The Piecemakers."

Peace. Northern Ireland. Piece. Hairpiece. Get it, nudge, nudge?

McEvoy's script has a great ear for the comic frustrations of Colm and George's situation, and a strong sense of what living under constant military and paramilitary threat is like. The funniest moments are never far removed from Ireland's deep-seated conflicts. But most of the moments devoted to that hatred aren't too far from a sort of ironic, wry commentary, either (when a twitching-faced, furious Catholic Colm is forced to stand at attention in a movie theater for "God Save the Queen" is one exception).

Director Levinson (Diner, Wag the Dog) is proficient at walking that thin line -- you can't have satire without sending up the conflict. And, although there are a few times when his balance feels off, for the most part, he's dead on.

Despite fording a stream to repossess an unpaid-for rug, selling that hairpiece at gunpoint to an IRA guerrilla, wrapping any willing bald head in plastic wrap for hairpiece sizing and humiliation in a barn stall, George and Colm are lagging behind in their contest.

But just how far are they willing to go in their quest for enough riches to buy "a wee Jacuzzi -- one for each foot"? Their small, only slightly dishonest scam will either win them a dealership or land them in prison.

McEvoy has some diamond moments here -- one of which involves a naked man on a settee in a case of mistaken identity. The creative use of a certain swear word to show astonishment, anger, fear, piety and every emotion between is another. Not many can curse with such inflection.

But somehow, after that creativity, the end seems thin -- not that it comes too soon, but that it's too flat, not raucous enough and with a bit too much, as Colm calls it, "epiphany."

Still, just to see the outer limits of self-delusion some men can have with their hairpieces, An Everlasting Piece is a great little piece of British comedy.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 16 March 2002

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