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HAPPY, TEXAS(director: Mark Illsley; screenwriters: Ed Stone/Illsley/Phil Reeves; cinematographer: Bruce Douglas Johnson; editor: Norman Buckley; cast: Jeremy Northam (Harry Sawyer), Steve Zahn (Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr.), William H. Macy (Sheriff Chappy Dent), Ally Walker (Josephine McClintock), Illeana Douglas (Ms. Schaefer), M.C. Gainey (Bob), Ron Perlman (Nalhober), Mo Gaffney (Mrs. Bromley), Paul Dooley (Judge); Runtime: 98; Miramax Films; 1999)
“A sitcom type of nonsensical comedy, one that has absolutely no bite.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sitcom type of nonsensical comedy, one that has absolutely no bite. Everyone is a cartoonish character, with the satire nonexistent and the comedy coming in a forced and heavy-handed manner derived from its physical comedy. It is such a forgettable film, that I forgot it 3/4 of the way through.

The film’s one joke is about a misunderstanding that makes two convicts be thought of as homosexuals. This happens when 2 of the 3 escaped convicts wind up stealing a homosexual couple’s R. V. and find themselves in Happy, Texas, expected to put on a beauty pageant as a gay couple. The jokes are coming at the expense of the convicts being cast as homosexuals, as the locals in this small-town accept them only because they want the young schoolgirls to win the contest so that they can go for the first time to Dallas for the state regional finals.

The film opens on a Texas chain gang where a smart, suave, con artist, Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam), and a dumb, crude, goofy, car thief, Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn), get into a brawl with a mean-spirited murderer, Bob Maslow (M. C. Gainey). When transported back to the prison for solitary confinement, their prison transport van overturns allowing them to escape.

Wayne and Harry go off chained together and steal the R.V., and soon find that they are in Happy, Texas, and that Sheriff Chappy (Macy) is there to escort them to town to see the judge and arrange for their job payment. The humor comes about as the convicts find they stole the vehicle of the gay couple David and Steven, who are professional beauty pageant organizers hired to prepare the grade-school girls for the Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed competition.

If there is anything amusing about this film, which is doubtful, it comes at awkward moments for the two convicts, who are trapped into being perceived as homosexuals. There is physical humor as Wayne acts crass and unsure of himself around the children and their teacher Miss Shaefer (Illeana). He attempts to choreograph their show numbers and has no clue how to relate to the kids; while Harry’s character gets caught in a romance with the single bank president, Josephine McClintock (Ally), who goes by the name of Jo. Their romance seemed artificial, sort of like filler stuff for the fluff story. Not to be outdone by Harry, Wayne has an equally unconvincing romance with Miss Shaefer. And to make things fit the formula pattern, Chappy and Harry start dating. This romance was just as unconvincing as the others in the film. If this were on TV, where it belongs as a sitcom, there would be canned laughter during the mock romantic scenes.

The third escaped convict comes predictably back into the picture, forcing the boys to go through with their plans to rob the bank, even though the boys have a change of heart about robbing the bank after seeing how everyone in town is so nice to them. This bank robbery is the final clumsy attempt to draw some laughs. The film lacked the art of making these situations funny.

REVIEWED ON 10/29/2000 GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”