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At the Movies: ‘Everlasting Piece’

December 19, 2000 GMT

It has a witty title and the delicious premise of two barbers, one Catholic and one Protestant, teaming to monopolize the toupee market amid the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Barry Levinson’s ``An Everlasting Piece″ halfheartedly fulfills the promise of its moniker and story line. It’s a funny enough buddy flick, but it could have used a transfusion of the exuberance that characterized ``The Snapper,″ ``Hear My Song″ and other more sprightly Irish romps.

While the movie has very humorous moments, the comedy inherent in toupee gags gradually runs dry, and the interplay between the main characters sometimes doesn’t offer enough sparks to pick up the slack.

Screenwriter Barry McEvoy, who stars as Colm O’Neill, created the tale from reminiscences by his father, who once sold hairpieces in Northern Ireland.

A barber in an insane asylum in the 1980s, Colm teams up with Protestant co-worker George (Brian F. O’Byrne) to form The Piece People, a partnership that vies with competitor Toupee Or Not Toupee to earn distribution rights for a line of hairpieces.

Anna Friel co-stars as Colm’s tough-minded, principled girlfriend. Billy Connolly (``Mrs. Brown″) appears in a small but delightful role as a madman who ran the countryside’s toupee business until he went batty and began scalping people.

The cast includes an array of offbeat characters, including Colm’s mother (Ruth McCabe), who wears underwear on her head to filter her hair from cigarette smoke, and an IRA man whose patrol stumbles on the toupee salesmen and threatens them on a backwoods road.

``I’m an O’Neill and he’s a Protestant,″ Colm blurts, before changing his story to protect their necks. ``I mean, he’s an O’Neill, too.″

Rather than shooting them, the bald IRA leader winds up buying an ill-fated toupee that he eventually loses.

``Was I bald when I came in here?″ he asks a pub companion when he realizes his rug has vanished. ``Why didn’t you tell me?″

``I figured it was laundry day or something,″ the other replies.

The toupee scenario gives rise to some choice jokes. One potential customer believes the salesmen are asking about herpes instead of a hairpiece. A mass toupee order calls for ``three synthetic Casanovas, 15 Starskys and one Hutch.″ Another potential buyer asks the salesmen, ``Do youse carry the Kenny Rogers gray?″

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The chrome-dome humor only goes so far, though. Some gags, notably a scene where Colm battles a dog for a hairpiece, are flat and overlong.

As with his Baltimore movies, Levinson enlivens ``An Everlasting Piece″ with well-chosen music, in this case such ’80s tunes as the Talking Heads’ ``Life During Wartime″ and David Bowie and Queen’s ``Under Pressure.″ Belfast native Van Morrison’s nostalgic ``On Hyndford Street″ is used to particularly good effect.

While it delivers inconsistently on its prime premise, the movie does put a human face on life during siege time. The troubles were waged by a tiny minority, with the rest of Northern Ireland suffering the pains. ``An Everlasting Piece″ captures the essence of ordinary people trying to get by under harsh and uncertain circumstances.

After many dramas focused on Northern Ireland extremists, a good-natured comedy about everyday denizens is a welcome addition.

A DreamWorks release, ``An Everlasting Piece″ runs 109 minutes and is rated R for language.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.