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Happy Texas

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Happy Texas

Starring: Steve Zahn, Jeremy Northam
Director: Mark Illsley
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Ron Perlman, Ally Walker, M.C. Gainey, Timothy Bagley, William H. Macy, Ileanna Douglas

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

I'm a firm believer in film critics admitting their biases, especially when it may not be obvious. Let me start by confessing that; as a native Texan, I have always had a special place in my heart for armadillos, a waddling Sherman tank of an animal that looks like a possum with body armor. Ever since they took to invading my outdoor chapel service when I was a boy at camp, I've loved those little critters.

In Mark Illsley's HAPPY, TEXAS, written with great glee by the director and Ed Stone, an armadillo gets some revenge on its most common predator, the automobile. Forcing a prison vehicle off the road, the armadillo ends up freeing the film's two heroes, a pair of likable convicts, Harry Sawyer and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. Jeremy Northam (AN IDEAL HUSBAND) with dashing charm plays Harry, and Steve Zahn (YOU'VE GOT MAIL) with zany insanity plays Wayne, a guy with a brain 4 beers shy of a six-pack.

After escaping into a vast Texas landscape filled by only the occasional sagebrush, they end up stealing a beat-up RV owned by 2 gay guys, Steven and David. Harry and Wayne discover that the gay guys are local pageant producers who advertise their product as "Princess Pageants at Pauper Prices." Visualizing voluptuous teenagers in skimpy bikinis, they are happy to be mistaken for the pageant producers by Happy's Sheriff Chappy Dent. The sheriff escorts them into town, where they have been hired to polish the local "talent." The entire picture is marvelously cast but none is better than veteran supporting actor William H. Macy (Academy Award winner for FARGO) as the in-the-closet gay, Sheriff Dent.

The pageant turns out to be for the title of "Little Miss Squeeze," as in oranges, and the contestants seem to be from the local kindergarten, not the high school as Harry and Wayne had assumed. As the pageant's leader, Ms. Schaefer, Illeana Douglas (GRACE OF MY HEART) tells the guys that the contestants were so bad last year that even their parents didn't come to see them. She sure is glad the town ponied up money to hire professionals like them.

In a marvelously silly bit of physical comedy, Wayne screams at the girls and tries to show them how to sing and dance. He's a doofus disaster at first, but, of course, he'll get better, which he manages to make as prissily fun as when he is bad. Wayne has trouble remembering the name of the convict (David) he's impersonating so when Harry introduces himself as Steven, Wayne calls himself "the other one."

Wayne becomes infatuated with Ms. Schaefer but being thought of as gay slows him down. Similarly, Harry has his eyes set on Josephine "Jo" McLintock (Ally Walker), as well as the bank that she owns and that he'd like to rob. She adopts him as her "girlfriend," but some in town begin to question his sexual preferences. One of Jo's friends tells her that, "he was looking at you the way a fat man looks at fried food."

One of the best subplots in a wonderful romp of a film concerns the moves that Chappy puts on Harry. On one date, Chappy takes Harry to gay cowboy bar. Ordering a steak, Chappy tells the waiter, "I want the rarest steak you've got -- just dehorn it, wipe its butt and send it in."

Is HAPPY, TEXAS for everyone? Nope. If you don't feel that you've gotten your money's worth from a picture unless you can leave the theater saddened by the gravity of the depressing situations, and if your favorite films all have unhappy endings, then HAPPY, TEXAS may leave you with an uncomfortably happy feeling. But for those of us that could use a little mirth in our lives, the good-spirited HAPPY, TEXAS with its silly script and adorable antics is just what we need.

HAPPY, TEXAS runs a fast 1:44. It is rated PG-13 for language, sexual content and some violence and would be fine for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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