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The Big Tease

Kevin Allen

It always surprises me to find out that someone hasn't seen The Big Tease, Craig Ferguson's glorious spoof of just about everything glamorous, from Hollywood celebrity to haute coiffure. The Big Tease is delirious, mile-a-minute fun.

Mr Ferguson plays Crawford Mackenzie is that a perfect name or what? a nice gay hairdresser from Glasgow whose nickname is "the Red Adair of Hair." This is a sweet touch: as an advocate of healthy hair, our hero, however flamboyant, is a wise man. The Big Tease deserves its title, for it is about not teasing hair. It is about rescue operations, the final one staged with all the suspense and commotion of a caper flick. In his way, Crawford Mackenzie is a superhero. He deserves to win the luridly bogus, made-for-Nicholas II Platinum Scissors. And wicked Stig Ludwigsen (David Rasche) deserves to forfeit them! Perhaps it's because the stakes are so low that we follow the climactic competition with the comfy glee of children being read to. The good guy wins! The bad guy loses! All's right with the world.

Crawford's ordeal is certainly childish. Crawford may be wise about hair, but he is also, in his quiet, understated way, full of himself. Overinterpreting an invitation from a professional hair association in Los Angeles, he flies off with Martin Samuels (Chris Langham), the BBC documentarian who is making a film about him, only to be haled into the manager's office at the swanky Century Plaza hotel, where he learns that his Hollywood junket is not of the all-expense-paid variety. Worse, he only now finds out that he has been invited to watch the Platinum Scissors finals, not to participate in them. All of a sudden, the hitherto carefree Crawford is confronted by serried ranks of adversity.

In his distress, Crawford naturally turns to the self-styled Ambassador from Scotland, Sean Connery. Mr Connery is played neither by himself nor by anyone else, but we do meet his (fictional) publicist, Candy Harper (Francis Fisher). It seems that the way to a woman's heart is through her roots: having put Candy's "alcoholic" mane through rehab, Crawford jumps a few giant steps closer to the finals. He and Candy make great bosom buddies; they believe in the same things, but look very different doing so. Of course they do! Candy's a girl, and therefore a slave to look-ism.

Crawford would never allow himself to be photographed in that position.

Eventually, even the functionary at the professional hair association, brittle Monique (Mary McCormack), is won over. Monique is very sweet about turning people down. And then she is very firm. Above all, she is determined not to be placed in an embarrassing posture. That  makes it fun to watch her squirm. Plus, she's very pretty in a way that's perfectly suited by the cute fan ornament that she wears in her hair for the big finish.

It would be wearying to recapitulate the verbal zingers that glitter throughout The Big Tease; they're not jokes so much as jolts, and what's funny about them is their perfect capture of cant. Everyone in The Big Tease has a shtick, a protective way of speaking that gives nothing away, and once you realize that the dialogue is about not communicating (because, after all, who'd be listening? only your enemies!), it becomes quite fascinating. The actors register sincerity in other ways. Candy and Crawford converse in unremitting bromides, but Mr Ferguson and Ms Fisher assure us that their attachment is absolutely genuine at least for the duration of Crawford's ordeal, which is when it counts.

In its funny way, The Big Tease is a critique of the kind of information that you are likely to get from a documentary. However "interesting," the material is almost certain to be canned, served forth in measured portions by knowing hands. Even the moments that ought to be surprising Crawford is actually arrested when his rented car turns out to be stolen, and the very next day he and Martin are shot when they go to Koreatown to lodge Crawford's complaint have a mediated, previously-owned feel to them. Hey! This is a comedy! Perhaps it's because the stakes are so high that we try so hard to remember that we we're being had in every frame. But it's no use: The Big Tease is too good at tickling us into submission. (August 2009)

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