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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Mark Illsley
Written by: Mark Illsley, Ed Stone, and Rick Montgomery
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, and Illeana Douglas

Although I am no stranger to rooting for a good blockbuster, I also like to put the spotlight on low-budget films that should have had more of an impact when they were originally released on the big screen. Happy Texas, a Sundance Film Festival favorite, is one such film. Maybe its screenings weren't jam-packed because no one really knew what the film was about, or even that it was out. Or, maybe those who did catch the trailer wrongly perceived it (unfairly) to be a gay or homophobic film. Mark Illsley's comedy is fairly unoriginal, predictable at times, and certainly not perfect. But, it's also a sweet and highly entertaining film that will satisfy those who are looking for a two-hour diversion.

You've seen this theme played out before: mistaken identity and playing it as far as one can in a small town where everyone knows your name. Elements of this played out about ten years ago when Michael J. Fox charmed Julie Warner in Doc Hollywood, and most recently in the under-appreciated Mumford. The classic Some Like It Hot also played this premise for many a laugh, and others will follow in the years to come. Of course, you know what's going on, but you won't mind it a bit wanting to join in on the fun for as long as it lasts in a movie that's about as screwball as Lone Star was serious.

What we've got here is the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello of escaped cons. Period-piece fixture Jeremy Northam (An Ideal Husband and The Winslow Boy) sheds his pre-20th century attire to play straight man/con man Harry Sawyer. Harry's on the run with his partner in crime and the film's comedy relief: Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Out of Sight player Steve Zahn).

After stealing a large set of wheels, the pair winds up in Happy, Texas where they are mistaken for gay beauty pageant consultants expected to help the little girls of Happy win a heavily promoted talent contest. As expected, the bumbling duo plays along to keep the pressure off. Wayne takes the lead in trying to shape up these young future stars while welcoming the playful advances of their teacher, Ms. Schaefer (veteran Illeana Douglas, who deserves more attention for her consistently solid work). Meanwhile, Harry is zeroing in on a golden opportunity to rob the town's bank. Love interest and an unwelcome intrustion from the past - psycho Bob - complicate things even further.

Happy Texas works because of the fine work of the established ensemble cast (particularly Zahn). Everyone was pretty likable and believable in his or her respective role, and I bought the romantic pairings (quirky and odd as they were). Not only were the romantic sparks funny, but the two lead's limited time together onscreen (the movie basically split the two up into two different, ongoing segments) produced plenty of smiles if not laughs. It was funny to see the two react when they first find out who they are mistaken for and just as funny seeing them go through the motions in trying to turn these adorable young ladies into champions. This is about the point where Zahn takes over the film as his dopey but lovable character takes the most unorthodox steps in teaching the girls discipline and etiquette, among other things.

Did I mention that besides psycho Bob, the federal authorities (led by a priceless Ron Perlman) are also in hot pursuit Fugitive-style? All this adds up to some playful mischief, mayhem and a whole lot of fun that is certainly not meant to offend anyone and is bound to entertain almost everyone.

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