Life’s Rich Pageant


If Happy, Texas, the subject of a heated bidding war at Sundance this year, has any use at all, it’s as an illustration of festival-induced delirium. Lazily directed by first-timer Mark Illsley (who also cowrote the clueless script), this mistaken-identity comedy about gay-acting straights sputters to a dead halt right out of the gate. Every wheezy gag is implicit in the one-joke premise.

On the lam, two bumbling convicts— slow-witted goofball Steve Zahn and his very bland foil Jeremy Northam— steal a motor home and, upon arriving in the small town of Happy, Texas, are enthusiastically greeted as the gay pageant consultants (a couple, no less) who’ve been hired to help stage the Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Pageant. One labored scenario follows another. Profanity-prone Zahn is stuck teaching little girls JonBenet routines with the help of a sexually frustrated schoolteacher
(Illeana Douglas). Roving-eyed Northam sets about wooing the pretty local banker (Ally Walker) with sensitive-gay-man behavior, while fending off the advances of the town’s real homosexual, William Macy’s sad-sack sheriff.

The film strikes a perverse balance between gay jokes and redneck jokes, and makes them all equally toothless. Thanks to the genial performers, the questionable material comes off, for the most part, merely tiresome (though Zahn’s comic timing and self-deprecating capacity for buffoonery is more than the movie deserves). No more or less offensive than the overrated In and Out, Happy, Texas is, at best, too dumb to hate; at worst, it’s Birdcage lining.

ââ From the unenlightened to the (ponderously) educational: Love Reinvented is a package of 12 shorts— 10 French films loosely dealing with AIDS and sexuality commissioned by the prolific production company ARTE, bookended
by David Ottenhouse’s Close To, a flashy anonymous-sex fantasy, and Cherish, a personal study of grief by Australian director Stephen Jones. Many of the French shorts play like stylized safe-sex commercials— in Pierre Salvadori’s One Moment, for instance, the handheld camera assumes the perspective of an HIV-positive man, consumed by lust and out of rubbers. Only one entry, Jean-Claude Guiguet’s An Ordinary Night, has lasting impact. A young man, visibly exhilarated, rides his bike through Paris on his way to, it turns out, a quiet, erotic evening with his hospitalized lover. A deft orchestration of numerous small, offhand gestures, Guiguet’s film achieves a tenderness and poignancy that makes virtually everything else in the program seem glib or preachy.

ââ Not quite the high-camp experience it should have been (not even with the absurdly somber narration of Sir Anthony Hopkins), the Imax “biopic” Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box does provide a few 3-D thrills early on— when Siegfried Fischbacher, the one with blond hair and a frozen smile, and Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn, the one with dark hair, a codpiece, and a frozen smile, flap their sequined cloaks in your face, while you squint through the dry ice and a white tiger rubs noses with you. Director Brett Leonard intercuts a (presumably typical) S&R Vegas extravaganza— a giddy display of pristine vulgarity— with hokey “reenactments” from the boys’ childhood, using suitably stony-faced actors and deranged imagery (Siegfried perched atop a snow-peaked Alp, Roy curled up with a cheetah at the Bremen Zoo). Once the filmmakers run out of sanctioned narrative, the movie devolves into a confusing final sequence in which S&R frolic with their wildcats at home and speak in incoherent ecobabble (nature is the real magic, apparently). Smut hounds should note that no rumors of any sort are addressed in this family entertainment, though Roy does lock lips with a lion at one point.