Movie Review By Erik Petersen
I don't want to be cynical, truly I struggle with it. And yet every time I get my hopes up, well two words, "Blair Witch." None the less, after generating a strong buzz at Sundance this year, including a Special Jury Prize for Comedic Performance for Steve Zahn I was genuinely excited to see "Happy, Texas." And then I saw it. Director Mark Illsley, who also co-wrote and produced the film, honed his chops as a second unit director on a number of major films including "Fandango" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." Here Illsley assembled a really solid cast unfortunately the script is filled with a myriad of tired gags and a weak plot.
Two petty thieves, played by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam escape from prison and hide out in a small Texas town where they pose as beauty pageant coaches hired to prep the town's children for the big pageant. The hitch is they have to pretend to be gay. Soon the clichés begin to pile-up like tumbleweeds. The townspeople each seek out one of the pair believing that their homosexuality gives them some kind of unique insight into human behavior. What follows is a cavalcade of silly devices. For example the town's most straight-laced resident reveals himself to be, oh my G-d I can't believe it, gay and in fact has a crush on Northam. I could only cringe in horror as the duo struggled through a dance together. I think I saw something like this on TV's "Taxi" fifteen years ago. Really, audiences deserve a little better than this. Well maybe they don't, but I do.
Steve Zahn plays one of the crooks, Wayne Wayne Wayne Junior. Get it? His name is comprised of the same name repeated three times. The film is permeated with this kind of weak attempt at laughs. Anyway Zahn delivers his lines throughout the film as if his jaw's wired shut and he's been huffing inhalants. Zahn has done this character before. Check out this performance in the under appreciated "Outta Sight." Still his coaching techniques along with a hilarious romp with the terrific Illeana Douglas, who plays the teacher Miss Schafer, provide some funny moments.
Meanwhile Wayne's partner Harry, played by Jeremy Northam, is romancing Josephine the director of bank to get his hands on the loot. Naturally since she thinks he’s gay there are none of the typical gender barriers and they're able to be completely honest with each other. I swear this was a plot of "The Love Boat" featuring Bill Bixby and Susan Anton.
Despite some fine performances from Steve Zahn, Illeana Douglas and William Macy the script is just too weak to overcome. Instead of seeing "Happy, Texas" check out "American Beauty." Or a rerun of "The Love Boat." I'm Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 1999 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 10/6/99
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