Happy, Texas

1999, Movie, NR, 104 mins


The only thing really wrong with this brisk bit of comic fluff is that supporting actors Steve Zahn and William H. Macy are so good that leads Jeremy Northam and Ally Walker seem dull by comparison. No matter: First-time director Mark Illsley and his cowriters cooked up a wonderful premise that delivers solid laughs and has a heart as big as the state in which this farce unfolds. Smooth-talking, white-collar criminal Harry Sawyer (Northam) and mush-mouthed car thief Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Zahn) are doing hard time scooping up roadkill on a Texas chain gang. When a fight breaks out on a lonely strip of highway, Harry and Wayne take off, steal a Winnebago from a convenience-store parking lot and soon roll into the tiny town of Happy, TX, "The town without a frown." Funny thing is, they're expected. Sheriff Chappy (Macy), perky schoolteacher Miss Schaefer (Illeana Douglas) and the rest of Happy mistake the cons for the r.v.'s real owners, two travelling "beauty pageant professionals" hired to whip a handful of Happy's little girls into shape for the Little Miss Fresh Squeezed pageant. Harry thinks they've found the perfect hideout, particularly after making note of the local bank's lax security system and even more irresistible president (Walker). But there's a catch: Staying put means actually putting together a pageant routine (choreography, costumes -- the whole shootin' match) and impersonating the missing pros, who happen to be gay lovers. From the minute he opens his mouth, the movie belongs to Zahn; by the time he's strutting around in glittery heels and a tiara in front of a bunch of preadolescent girls, you wish the whole film was about Wayne, not the caddish Harry, played without much zest by a miscast Northam. Likewise Macy, who's surprisingly affecting as a small-town sheriff who finds his heart, only to lose it the day the Little Miss Fresh Squeezed Pageant comes to town. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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