October 01, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Happy, Texas

Current Status
In Season
Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn
We gave it a B-

When escaped convicts Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn) steal a camper belonging to a couple of gay beauty-pageant producers on their way to a gig deep in the heart of Texas, there’s only one thing these bad boys can do to elude the law: put on the best little beauty pageant the town has ever seen.

In Happy, Texas, a comedy of ’90s sexual inclusiveness as effervescent as a cold sody pop — and about as intoxicating — none of the locals bat an eye at the arrival of the pair. An eager schoolteacher (Illeana Douglas) gazes at Wayne with googly admiration. The town banker (Ally Walker) takes to Harry like a best girlfriend. Heck, the sheriff (William H. Macy) takes to Harry too.

”Happy, Texas” is strategically happy; no gays, Texans, or little girls gilded in grown-up lipstick were hurt or teased during the making of director-cowriter Mark Illsley’s soft, woolly first feature, one of the two word-of-mouth hits (along with ”The Blair Witch Project”) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The performances, particularly by Zahn (”Out of Sight”) and Macy (”Mystery Men”), are spry and tender. The dialogue is sitcom snappy. There are even a couple of sight gags involving armadillos.

And so long as you don’t think of the far more daring ”Some Like It Hot,” and so long as you don’t get heartburn from the self-conscious nobility bestowed upon every homosexual character (with attendant magical powers of sensitivity and dressmaking), why then this chicken-fried comedy makes a pretty decent snack.

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