Happy, Texas [1999]

Three prisoners on a chain gang find themselves on the loose when their prison van overturns to avoid hitting an armadillo. Two of them--Jeremy Northam (An Ideal Husband, The Winslow Boy) and Steve Zahn (Out of Sight, That Thing You Do!)--steal an RV that turns out to belong to two junior-beauty-pageant promoters on their way to organize a pageant in Happy, Texas. When Northam and Zahn find themselves stuck in Happy, their only option is to follow through with their masquerade and put on the pageant. Unfortunately, the promoters are known to be gay, which complicates matters when both men find themselves attracted to local women--Illeana Douglas (Grace of My Heart, Cape Fear) and Ally Walker (While You Were Sleeping, TV's Profiler). The cast is uniformly entertaining, but it's William H. Macy (Fargo, Pleasantville) who really steals the show as the town sheriff with a secret of his own. Happy, Texas was an audience favorite at the Sundance Film Festival but didn't do as well in wide release, probably because viewers expected a nonstop farce. But though the movie is a comedy, and a very funny one, its humor springs more from nuances of character than broad wackiness. The situations are a little predictable, but the performers--especially Macy--give it zest and genuine feeling. --Bret Fetzer

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