"Happy, Texas" is Mark Illsley's sweet-natured comedy about two escaped convicts who try to pass as kiddie beauty pageant consultants in the tiny title town. Oh, and, by the way, they're gay.
Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam do a good job of bringing their characters to life in a story that is otherwise all too predictable. Zahn is dutifully jittery as a psychotic who is put in charge of a school full of little girls (his off-handed offer of a cigarette to one of them is one of the movie's funniest bits), and Northam -- heretofore best known for his veddy, veddy British characters in "The Winslow Boy" and "An Ideal Husband" -- seems to be channeling Alec Baldwin as the team's gruff mastermind.
But "Happy, Texas" (which was obviously filmed in California, unless Texas recently sprouted a mountain range) suffers from a fatal glibness of tone where sexuality is concerned. Not only is the action resolved by everyone reverting to type, but the filmmakers don't seem to understand that a group of prisoners ogling a little girls' beauty pageant might not strike everyone as hilariously funny. Thank heaven for William H. Macy, whose portrayal of Happy's sheriff strikes the only honest note in a film that earns its laughs the cheap way.
Running time: 104 minutes
Sun score: **
"Romance" is being advertised as this year's "Last Tango in Paris," only -- get this! -- it's directed by a woman. Don't believe the hype. Catherine Breillat's pretentious, meandering, self-indulgent portrait of a libidinously deprived young woman is nothing more than pornography tricked out as feminist parable.
Caroline Ducey plays Marie, a schoolteacher whose male-model boyfriend (Sagamore Stevenin) refuses to sleep with her. Desperate for physical gratification, Marie roams the Paris streets in a tasteful cream Mercedes, looking for lust wherever she can find it. Finally she meets her match in her school principal, who turns out to be the world's most courtly and polite sado-masochist.
Supposedly a chance for women to turn the tables on men in the graphic-sexuality department, "Romance" is a silly, stupid, boring exercise in female chauvinism, the final point of which seems designed to set relations between the sexes back by centuries. Even gussied up with polemic that sanctifies motherhood as women's only true vocation, the graphic depictions of oral sex, eroticized rape and fetishistic tableaux recall Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous line about smut: that he knew it when he saw it. We've seen it, and it stinks.
Running time: 95 minutes
Sun score: *