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With: Steve Zahn, Jeremy Northam, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, M.C. Gainey, Ron Perlman, Mo Gaffney, Paul Dooley
Written by: Ed Stone, Mark Illsley, Phil Reeves
Directed by: Mark Illsley
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 01/01/1999

Happy, Texas (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Scrappy 'Happy'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Happy, Texas created a lot of buzz at Sundance, but it must have skated by on its charm more than on its filmmaking technique. In reality, it's hampered by a lame sitcom story, sloppy direction, poor editing, and flat photography. But thanks to the skilled performances by Steve Zahn and William H. Macy, not to mention the winning presence of Jeremy Northam, Illeana Douglas, and Ally Walker it comes out a winner.

The story has Zahn and Northam as prisoners who break out of jail and disguise themselves as gay beauty pageant workers in the small town of Happy, Texas. The reason for them to keep up their facade is that the bank in Happy is lax in security and looks like easy pickings. The plot could have been rejected from "Three's Company," but with Zahn's scrappy physicality and endearingly dumb nature, we buy into this harebrained scheme.

Zahn is like a '90s version of character actor Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, The Killing), the weasly little sidekick who plays dumb with a vengeance. Even better is Macy as "Chappy," the small-town sheriff. Macy has a few scenes of such incredible earnestness that he snaps our hearts in two. He essentially plays the sad-sack from Fargo, but with a few new wrinkles.

Zahn and Macy alone save Happy, Texas from the dustbin. The last act is a chase scene so badly timed and photographed that we can't see what's going on, and even if we could, we would know that it doesn't make sense. The first-time director is Mark Illsley, who cut his teeth working with the sloppiest director in Hollywood, Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rapa Nui), so it's no wonder that his skill is dubious.

In the end, no one in the crowd I was with seemed to mind the non-professionalism of "Happy, Texas" and enjoyed some good laughs. I did too.

Best Buy Co, Inc.