Barry Levinson's eclectic career has taken him from Oscar glory (Rain Man) to big-budget folly (Toys, Sphere) and from glossy commercial product (Disclosure, Bugsy) to semi- autobiographical mini-dramas set in his home town of Baltimore (Diner, Tin Men, Liberty Heights). But it's still a surprise to see him at the helm of a quirky caper that tries to find whimsical comedy in Belfast's deep-seated sectarian divisions.
DreamWorks clearly didn't know what to do with An Everlasting Piece in the USA, and were accused by the producers of trying to brush it under the carpet. (The film's release was hacked down from 750 cinemas to a pitiful eight.) It's doubtful it will fare better over here as, while there's fun to be had in this story of two chancers cutting a rug against the backdrop of the Troubles, it's another example of Hollywood's tendency to blunder into areas about which it has little understanding or empathy (The Devil's Own, anyone?).
Barry McEvoy, who plays Catholic crimper Colm, based his script on his father's time as a toupee salesman in Northern Ireland. This explains the episodic nature of the action and the absurdity of the premise. But it doesn't excuse heavy-handedly shoehorning the IRA, the British Army and Orange Order bully-boys into a feather-light plot, or a misguided attempt to soften Ulster's realities with Waking Ned-style blarney.
The film is strong on wryly amusing details (the way "hairpiece" is confused with "herpes"; a cleric who only wants a rug made from Papist follicles) but distinctly short on belly laughs, while Billy Connolly's expansive turn as "The Scalper" belongs in a different picture. Anna Friel gives good accent as Colm's no-nonsense bird, but on this evidence she's still no closer to the Hollywood stardom she quit Brookside for. A sure case of hair today, gone tomorrow.