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Happy, Texas
Boston Globe, October 18, 1999, David Brudnoy

George Forman reminds us that he named all his sons George, but a character in this genial comedy goes one better: He is named Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (cocky Steve Zahn), and he and his partner of convenience, Harry Sawyer (English actor Jeremy Northam, unconvincing as an American), find themselves - escaped convicts - assumed to be homosexual pageant organizers hired to train a bunch of no-talent preteens to qualify for the Little Miss Squeezed Pageant. This is an honor that has always eluded hickish Happy, Texas, so the town hired the two guys whose Winnebago our heroes have stolen. When the cops sidle up to the vehicle, they think the fellows inside are the ones they've hired.

The movie plays out on several angles. There is of course the mistaken identity gambit, wherein two straight guys, thought by everyone to be homosexual -- and treated with a kindness perhaps a bit too generous, in reality, for the locale -- are attracted to women and want to be taken seriously as swains. Well, at least Harry realizes soon enough that he's turned on by the town banker (Ally Walker), who doesn't have many likely candidates as her boyfriend in this backwater but can't think of Harry as anything but gay. The other guy, Wayne Wayne (etc.), only slowly realizes that the lady (Illeana Douglas) who has been trying to teach the little girls has charms worthy of his bantamish affections.

Another and the second funniest bit in the movie is Wayne's bumbling efforts to mentor the little girls. This guy is a total klutz but he's a plugger, and there's money awaiting him and his partner when the training is completed, so he wades in and does his best. You may cringe watching Wayne educate himself in the fine points of pageantry.

The third, and funniest, ingredient is the unfolding secret of the town sheriff, Chappy Dent, played with plaintive doe eyes and a hang-dog expression by William H. Macy, increasingly one of the cinema's most reliable character actors. This is a man with a heart as big as Texas and an inferiority complex to match, and just how he sheds himself of his self-doubts is at once funny and poignant.

There is also some danger afoot, as a bad guy from our heroes' prison time comes to town to do some damage and steal some loot from the bank. But the comedy so clearly is on the genial side that we never for a minute think that anything terrible will happen to anybody we care for. We come in short order to care for almost everybody in the movie: doofus yokels, sexy banker lady, gawky Wayne Wayne (etc.), debonair Harry, moony sheriff, even the awkward girls who try so hard to master a few dance steps and make their way, they hope, to the finals in the Little Miss Squeezed Pageant. Whether or not you'll want to squeeze any of the little girls is open to question - they're all too wholesome for words - but you'll find the town engaging and the performances, especially whacky Steve Zahn's, winning.

Co-written (with Ed Stone and Phil Reeves) and directed by Mark Illsley. Rated PG-13.

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