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Sunday, October 14, 2018


Being a devout non-Billy Crystal fan might be considered a drawback when delving into a comedy like CITY SLICKERS (1991, Shout! Factory), seeing as it actually stars Billy Crystal.  Fortunately, it didn't take long for me to accept him as his character, a not unlikable family man named Mitch with a crummy job and an impending mid-life crisis.

His buddies Phil (Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby, THE GODFATHER PART II) are also going through pretty much the same thing in various ways.  Phil just broke up with his harridan of a wife and lost his job, his house, and his direction in life. Ed has a beautiful young wife yet still finds life unsatisfying, leading him to embark on wild daredevil vacations once a year and dragging Mitch and Phil along with him.

Naturally, this will result in the trio ending up at a Colorado ranch and participating in a cattle drive that will test their "city slicker" mettle while giving them plenty of opportunity to find themselves.  The long hours on horseback and huddled around the campfire at night will be like an extended group therapy for them, but with cows.

There's also Curly (Jack Palance), the roughest, toughest old cowboy of them all, who terrifies them all at first until Mitch manages to get through to his human side.  The rest of the crew consists of Cookie (Tracey Walter) and a couple of no-account saddle bums including "Homicide: Life on the Streets" regular Kyle Secor.

Surprisingly, CITY SLICKERS doesn't go for belly laughs, instead content to give us a fair amount of pleasant chuckles throughout along with several scenes that are actually designed to be either heartwarming (there's a good deal of male bonding and mutual emotional support going on with these guys), thought-provoking (deep meaning-of-life stuff and all that), and downright exhilarating, as when Mitch, Phil, and Ed end up having to drive the herd though uncertain territory all by themselves.

Billy, of course, gets a constant supply of throwaway gag lines, but he's restrained and fairly realistic here, which is nice.  The same goes for his co-stars, who each have a seperate journey through their own mid-life pitfalls which the film gently chronicles while keeping us pleasantly amused with the fish-out-of-water stuff.

Western buffs will be pleased to discover that for all its comedic aspects, the film actually does function much as a real western, especially in its second half when the cattle drive is fully under way and subject to a few jarring plot twists.

Also to the story's advantage is the fact that the leads are basically nice guys that we can root for during their emotional ups and downs on the journey.  Director Ron Underwood (TREMORS, THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH, IN THE MIX) does a solid, unobtrusive job of bringing the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to life.

Familiar faces abound including Noble Willingham as the ranch owner, Jeffrey Tambor as Mitch's dour boss, Patricia Wettig as his understanding wife, and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson).  Other city slickers include Helen Slater (SUPERGIRL), David Paymer (GET SHORTY), Josh Mostel, and Bill Henderson.  A tiny Jake Gyllenhaal (DONNIE DARKO) plays Mitch's son, and Danielle Harris can be spotted as a classmate.

The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory features an all-new 4K scan with English subtitles.  Extras consist of:

Audio Commentary By Director Ron Underwood And Stars Billy Crystal And Daniel Stern
"Back In The Saddle: City Slickers" Revisited
"Bringing In The Script: Writing City Slickers"
"A Star Is Born: An Ode To Norman"
"The Real City Slickers"
Deleted Scenes
Reversible Cover Art

While CITY SLICKERS doesn't try to steamroll us with comedy or drench us in pathos, it has enough of each quality in addition to some genuine warmth and sparkling character interaction to succeed as a solid, enjoyable comedy western about three everyday guys coming of age late in life.  And while I'm not normally a Billy Crystal fan, I must admit that this time he actually won me over. 

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