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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

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1.  Greg King review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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4.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

Despite becoming more commercial over the years, the Sundance Film Festival still manages to showcase some of the best of American independent cinema and unearth a few new talented directors. Happy Texas was one of the surprise hits of the 1999 festival, and inspired a bidding war amongst some of the studios.

This delightfully off beat comedy is the first film from writer Ed Stone and director Mark Illsley, who crafted his skills as an assistant with Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Rapa Nui, etc). Happy Texas tells the story of two escaped convicts who hide out in a small town in Texas, and are mistaken for a pair of gay pageant directors hired to prepare the local school girls for a forthcoming beauty quest.

While the wonderfully named, barely literate car thief Wayne Wayne Wayne jr (Steve Zahn, from Out Of Sight, Bandwagon, etc) is left with eager teacher Ms Schaefer (Illeana Douglas) to help hone the talents of his young charges, the more suave Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam, largely cast against type) checks out the local bank, which he judges is ripe for the picking.

But Harry slowly falls in love with the beautiful bank manager (Profiler's Ally Walker), unaware that Chappy (William H Macy), the town's lonely and closeted sheriff, has also secretly fallen for him - hard. Further complications develop when another escaped convict shows up and forces Harry and Wayne to help him rob the bank.

Happy Texas follows on from those other recent comedies (In & Out, The Birdcage, Three To Tango, etc) that embrace complex issues of male sexuality and identity and milk the possibilities of the scenario for laughs. This charming and deftly written comedy also moves into more familiar territory when it takes a non-judgmental look at the mores and attitudes of small town America. This is a town that welcomes a pair of gay pageant directors with open arms because they are strangers passing through, but somehow forces the sheriff to conceal his sexuality because he has to live and work with these people. Happy Texas draws much of its genial humour from its look at life in this small town and its quirky inhabitants, although there is nothing malicious in it.

Unfortunately this zesty and fast paced film seems to run out of puff before the final reel. The film is let down slightly only by the somewhat conventional nature of its very busy finale, which includes a chase and a shoot-out. Illsley manages to strike a nice balance between the slapstick and the poignant here, and he directs with surprising restraint, given his limited experience.

The solid cast throw themselves into their roles with enthusiasm, but the film is lifted somewhat by two standout performances. The busy but always reliable Macy brings a nice touch of pathos to his wonderful performance as Chappy, the lovelorn sheriff. Zahn is superb and brings a nice manic energy and physical quality to his boisterous role.

During the hectic film going holiday season you should make a detour via the multiplexes to check out Happy Texas. It will put a smile on your face.

Copyright 1999 Greg King

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