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Happy Texas

Starring Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas
Screenplay by Ed Stone and Phil Reeves
Directed by Mark Illsley

IN SHORT: A Happy Happy surprise [Rated [PG-13]]

Lessee what we got here. We got three bankrobbers: one dumb, one brutal and one average, normalguy con, all escaped from a Texas chain gang. We've got an old maid school teacher. We've got a straight arrow cop and a beautiful woman as a (business) authority figure in a small town in which none of the principals have anything resembling a love life. Toss gently with a case of mistaken identity and whether you call 'em stock characters or stereotypes, if you've seen 'em once, you've seen 'em a thousand times, written by a thousand different hacks, banging away at their keyboards trying to pay the rent . . .

And on try number One Thousand and One, you find a pair of writers who know what they're doing, in this case Ed Stone and Phil Reeves. The pair take ordinary people in, for the most part, ordinary situations and give a fistful of good actors some great material to build greater characters with. When stuff like this happens, and it's usually with the "smaller" and mostly independently produced films, we critics jump up and down and yell until we're blue in the face, to try and drum up support for 'em. Especially as the deluge of Oscar wannabe monstrosities comes surging at us. But, being as the citizens of Happy, Texas are good, quiet folk, Cranky will say it quietly: "please see this movie." It's sweet and it's simple and it's heartfelt and it's well worth your time.

Simply: Three cons escape from a chain gang. Bob Maslow (M.C. Gainey) finds the keys, unlocks himself and runs away. Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn) either don't try to find the keys that Bob has tossed, or are just to dim to go looking for 'em. It doesn't matter; chained cons are just funnier. Harry and Wayne steal a broken down RV and through coincidences to, um, coincidental to give away, find themselves taking on the identities of the actual owners of the RV in the sleepy little town called Happy. Year after year, Happy has sent their happiest little kidlets off to the "Little Miss Squeezed Pageant". Year after year, they failed to place any contestants. So the good citizenry hired David and Steve, professional beauty pageant coaches, to better their chances. The town knows they've hired pros 'cuz they read about 'em in a magazine . . .

And, of course, the men are gay, which is probably why the people of Happy think they've got the best. That's as far as any stereotypical "gay" jokes go. "Steve" (formerly Harry) sees a bank ripe for plunder, and a lovely bank manager named Joe (as in Josephine, played by Ally Walker) to fall in love with. "David" (formerly Wayne) is left to teach the seven year old kidlets how to sing and dance. He can do neither, of course, but he has the aid of the local old maid schoolmarm, Ms. Schaefer (Illeana Douglas). The entire town is protected by, and under the watchful eye of, Sheriff Chappy Dent (William H. Macy) who also has his eyes out for "love".

We spoke with William H. Macy back when Mystery Men came out and he made a point of mentioning how happy he was with this movie. We're going to go hunting down the clip so you can hear it for yourself. In the meantime, if Happy Texas comes around (its initial release is so limited you're going to have to keep your eyes peeled) do your approximation of a two step shuffle-on-over to your local theater. You'll be remembering Steve Zahn (first noted as the Peter Scolari lookalike last seen in Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do) whose Wayne sets new standards for dense and lovable.

With the new teevee season starting, I thought I'd mention that Walker comes via the small screen's "Profiler" on NBC. Douglas is currently in Fox's "Action". And once upon a time "Beast" Ron Perlman has a small supporting role as the Texas Marshal from the next town up the street.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Happy Texas, he would have paid...


Great for grown ups. Cranky loved it.

Click to buy films by Mark Illsley
Click to buy films starring William H. Macy
Click to buy films starring Illeana Douglas

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2016   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.