Two hapless convicts make a break for it. In the course of their desperate getaway, Harry (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. (Steve Zahn) steal a Winnebago and wind up on the outskirts of the hick, smalltown of Happy, Texas. When Sheriff Dent (William H. Macy), unaware that Harry and Wayne aren’t the RV’s rightful owners, hauls them into town to negotiate their price for staging this year’s Little Miss Fresh Squeeze Beauty Pageant, the boys soon realize that their alter egos share more than just a business. The escaped cons must pretend to be gay operators of beauty pageants for little girls.
Harry soon learns from the beautiful and lonely bank president Josephine “Joe” McClintock (Ally Walker) that the bank will be brimming with cash once the farmers sell their crops. Armed with this knowledge, he convinces a skeptical Wayne to stick to their shaky assumed identities until they can mount a heist. Problems quickly arise. While Wayne bravely teaches himself dance choreography suitable for a bunch of giggly ten-year old girls, Harry’s deepening feelings for Joe as well as Sheriff Dent’s crush on him test his cover. And neither fugitive anticipated their growing fondness for the citizens of Happy; a colorful collection of good-hearted small town folks who obliviously adopt the undercover thieves.
Yikes, you’re thinking. This sounds like Disney’s “Apple Dumpling Gang” films circa 1970s — except that the protagonists are impersonating a couple of gay guys and the language and gunplay are a lot rougher. So how could this film be even watchable, let alone entertaining? The big difference is this film is funny. Very, very, tears-rolling-down-your-face funny. “Happy, Texas” somehow combines the sweetness of a family comedy with the raucous screwball antics of a Savage Steve Holland film. (Whatever happened to that guy?) This is due, in large part, to winning performances by all concerned and especially the hugely underappreciated Steve Zahn. While Macy capably handles Sheriff Dent’s secret with dignity and sincerity and Northam and Walker provide the obligatory Ken & Barbie white picket fence stuff, Zahn is a flat out scream as the unabashedly redneck Wayne.
With the recent glut of scary films — “Blair Witch,” “Stigmata,” “Stir of Echoes,” “Sixth Sense” — our chronological odometer has been threatening to roll over into 2000 under a bleak cloud of gloom and doom. “Happy, Texas” should take care of that. From this admittedly dorky scenario, screenwriter Ed Stone and co-writer/director Mark Illsley have managed to concoct a loopy, ridiculous farce which proves that the screwball comedy still has a place even as we approach the new millenium.