Happy, Texas

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Collector's Series DVD

Disney, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], French Dolby Surround, subtitles: Spanish, single side-dual layer, 16 chapters, rated PG-13, 98 min., $29.98, street date 4/11/2000.


  • Commentary Track with Mark Illsley and Ed Stone
  • Music Videos
  • Deleted Scenes with Director's Commentary
  • Making-Of Featurette
  • Interview with Mark Illsley and Ed Stone

Studio Line

Directed by Mark Illsley. Starring Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, M.C. Gainey, Ron Perlman.

Popular stars Steve Zahn, Jeremy Northam and William H. Macy enliven a hilarious comedy where a case of mistaken identity leads to a beauty of a con game! When escaped convicts Harry Sawyer (Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. (Zahn) are pulled over in the town of Happy, Texas…while driving a stolen Winnebago…they think they're being arrested. Rather, they're immediately welcomed as the vehicle's owners: a gay couple who've come to orchestrate the "Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Pre-Teen" beauty pageant! Not ones to let a good con pass them by, the pair doesn't hesitate to adopt flamboyant new personalities…and quickly meet with outrageously unpredictable consequences! With a great cast of stars playing an unusually offbeat collection of characters -- you'll be more than happy you picked up this laugh-out-loud comedy treat!

Picture/Sound/Extras (B/B-/B+)

Although Happy, Texas was an independent film, it smacks of Hollywood "high concept" all the way: a couple of escaped convicts get mistaken for gay kids' beauty pageant gurus and try to fake their way through the job to stay on the lam. Hilarity ensues.

Or is supposed to ensue, but I didn't find much about Happy, Texas that seemed very funny. I certainly wouldn't call it a dismal, morose effort - it includes some mildly entertaining parts - but in general I thought it offered tepid fun at best.

Part of the problem is that we've seen similar stories in other films and on TV. Okay, the beauty pageant part adds a twist, but I find myself very weary of the whole "straight guys pretending to be gay" theme. It's been done, and this movie doesn't treat it in any new form. It even reminded me of terrible Seventies TV show Three's Company at times, with its lame double entendres and scenes of apparent (but mistaken) homoerotic escapades.

At least HT offers a solid cast. I'm quite fond of Steve Zahn, and while he doesn't do anything special here, I was happy to see him at least; he's an unusual comic presence and very versatile, though he does seem to specialize in this kind of dumb miscreant role; his Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (yes, that's what passes for wit in this piece) reminded me a fair amount of Glenn in Out Of Sight, though the latter role was much better fleshed-out and seemed more real.

Brit Jeremy Northam does a perfectly acceptable job as the other convict, Harry, although his accent isn't quite convincing. Northam seemed an odd choice for the role, but since Zahn handles most of the comedy, Northam is left to the romantic subplot, which appears to better match his talents.

William H. Macy is always great to have around, and while his role as Sheriff "Chappy" Dent doesn't require him to stretch his muscles, at least his presence adds substance to the movie. Ally Walker also seems pretty solid as local gal Jo McClintock; she creates a convincing attitude about the part.

And that's really about all there is to say about Happy Texas. It's a pretty nothing movie; though it's not without some charms, I found the entire project to seem mainly rather pedestrian and predictable. The performers add some much-needed spark to it, but not enough to make the movie worthwhile.

Happy, Texas appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie generally looked pretty good, though I couldn't help but feel it should have appeared a bit stronger.

Sharpness was usually pretty crisp and well-defined, though vague softness occasionally interfered. Jagged edges seemed absent, but I noticed moiré effects at times. I also saw a few problems related to the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV, but not many. The print used seemed relatively clean, though I noticed occasional speckling and a vaguely gritty appearance at times.

Colors were fairly attractive but I thought they seemed somewhat flat for most of the film. Actually, that description applies to much of the movie; it didn't possess a whole lot of obvious flaws, but it just looked vaguely flat to me. (I've used the word "vague" three times so far, and while I don't like to be redundant, it's a good word to describe the picture of HT; all its issues are minor and hard to specify.) Black levels seemed pretty deep and dark, and shadow detail was nicely opaque but not overly so. I didn't dislike the image of this film, but for some reason, it just struck me as oddly bland.

The movie's Dolby Surround 2.0 mix left me with a similar impression. I was rather disappointed to discover it was not a Dolby Digital track, for while I know HT was a low-budget affair, I also know I've observed lots of cheap indie films that provide 5.1 mixes, and good ones at that, so I was surprised that I didn't find one here.

Anyway, the forward soundfield is pretty good. I noticed a fair amount of activity from the front side channels and the audio integrates well. The track mainly comes alive when the various country songs play; the spread nicely across the speakers and give the mix some much-needed "oomph." The surrounds are used to bolster the music and to provide occasional effects.

Audio quality seemed erratic. Dialogue suffered the most. Although I always understood the speech, I thought it sounded very flat and muffled without any sort of natural qualities. At the other end of the spectrum was the music, which seemed vibrant and lively, with crisp highs and some well-defined lows. Effects fell somewhere in-between; they appeared acceptably realistic and clear and they lacked distortion. Like the picture, the audio of HT is decent but disappointing.

As a full-fledged special edition, Happy Texas packs in some nice supplements. First up is an audio commentary from director Mark Illsley and writer Ed Stone. This track seems pretty informative and engaging. While Illsley and Stone aren't quite as funny and charming as they seem to think they are, their breezy and conversational tone lets the commentary pass effortlessly, and they pack in a lot of information about the film.

We also find about 17 minutes of deleted scenes; these can be screened with or without commentary from Illsley. I thought these were good clips, though most were really alternate scenes, not deleted ones. The commentary helps explain why they didn't make it to finished product. For the most part, these scenes were not in the final cut because they were later reshot; apparently, between the time Miramax agreed to pick up the film at Sundance in 1999 and its theatrical release, a number of bits were reshot, and most of the clips found in this section were the original versions.

Next up is "The Creation of Happy Texas: An Interview With Director Marc Illsley and Writer Ed Stone". This piece lasts about 15 minutes and 15 seconds, and offers an okay look at their thoughts. To be frank, I was getting a little tired of these two by this point; their enthusiasm is nice, but their somewhat aggressive "charm" started to wear thin. Also, some of the points covered here seemed redundant after the audio commentary. Still, it's worth a look for fans of the film.

A featurette runs for almost eight minutes. It's a decent affair, and although it clearly takes primarily a promotional bent, it's more diverse than most of these "glorified trailers"; I found quite a few good interview clips with cast and crew. It's a short but entertaining program.

Speaking of trailers, I thought I should note the unusual: no trailer appears on this DVD. Why? I have no idea. It's no huge loss, I suppose, but I thought it seemed strange.

Finally, the DVD finishes with two music videos. Both songs are from female country performers but nonetheless seem very different. Pam Tillis' "After A Kiss" is the more traditional song of the two; it's pretty standard soft country. The video is also pretty ordinary, as it uses the usual lip-synch/film clip combination we've seen so frequently.

The second video - Shannon Brown's "Half A Man" - seems more unusual. The music falls much closer to the Shania Twain rock-influenced genre, a fact made even clearer by the lyrics (which, like so much from Shania, basically tell men they'd better be seriously bitchin' dudes if they hope to get any). Also like Twain, Brown's quite hot; she looks like a blonder version of Jennifer Aniston (and that's not a bad thing). The video is pretty bland; it just shows Brown shimmying and lip-synching, along with some mildly inept male dancers. Well, I liked the shimmying, so this one's worth a look if you're a fan of sexy babes.

Unfortunately, not even a video from a hot woman like Brown can make this package fully compelling. Happy, Texas is a decent movie but it seems far too bland and uninspired for my taste. The DVD offers generally good picture, sound and extras, but none of these areas excel. Happy Texas may be worth a rental, but that's the most I can recommend.

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