On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.On the verge of turning 40, an unhappy Manhattan yuppie is roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest.
This is to the credit of "City Slickers", a great comedy with an original premise; three white- collar New Yorkers decide to spend a two-week vacation, herding cattle from New Mexico to Colorado, like real cowboys. Billy Crystal is Mitch, Daniel Stern is Phil and the late Bruno Kirby is Ed, the film screams '90's comedy' through these three faces, but their friendship is not just believable, I wouldn't believe it if these guys were not friends in real life. They share their childhood, baseball and fathers' memories (sometimes, the three at once) with the kind of passion that can only be expressed between pals. "City Slickers" features real characters, with real problems, real dilemma, and real fears, in a sort of psychological build-up that makes the whole experience even more insightful.
Naturally, the film offers the obligatory gallery of supporting characters with their share of goofiness and sympathy, there is a father and his son, both "black and dentist" as states the son, making an issue of it before anyone would do. There are David Paymer and Josh Mostel as Ira and Barry Shalowitz, owners of one of the biggest national ice companies, a la Ben & Jerry's, and a pretext to a hilarious line when they're asked why it's not their faces that are featured in the boxes "would you eat it if it was us?". There's naturally the pretty blonde who might mislead the first-time viewers, but wisely enough, the script avoids any attempt of a romance (the kind that undermined even such classics as "Red River", to which "City Slickers" is a clear homage). These guys have enough problems, Mitch is in a middle-age crisis, contemplating the emptiness of his life, Phil lost his job and wife, Ed lives with a 24-year old girl who wants a baby, whatever the solution is, it's not a woman not yet anyway.
"City Slickers" is a buddy movie and I guess that's what men would enjoy the most: watching guys they can all relate to, having a good time once in their lives, having a break. By taking them to a totally exotic setting, the film illustrates the miraculous effect communion with nature has on men. A poet said once, "it's only when you get at the top of a mountain that you start climbing", in "City Slickers", it's when they'll get at the end of the road that the road of their lives will start. This is what it's all about, a new start, with new decisions, new choices. Each one has to figure what the one thing he cares the most is and stick with it. Like the best comedies, "City Slickers" speaks a powerful and inspirational message about our capacity to change our lives without changing much, just the mindset. And one character embodies this spirit; it's Curly, the veteran cow boy, the toughest man Mitch ever saw.
Curly is the character the movie needed the most. Without him, it would have been a bunch of city slickers playing cowboys, but Jack Palance, with his rock-graved face and inimitable grin, is the remaining link to this missed era. The film doesn't just feature a bunch of tender-feet herding a cattle, it's also the celebration of the cowboy spirit, the Old West as a part of history, of pop-culture and cinematic heritage. It's one thing to have the guys yelling "Yee- haaa" like in "Red River", or the trio humming the "Bonanza" theme. Jack Palance's face is the continuation of Hollywood's Golden Age. And when he said "we're a dying breed", I wondered if he was speaking only about cowboys or also about his generation of actors. Palance elevates the film beyond the simple comedy label, and that his brief performance earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor proves how unforgettable he was. That's what a supporting is about, helping the main character to change, to see life differently, without doing much.
Directed by Ron Underwood, "City Slickers" belongs to the best breed of comedy. It is full of priceless exchanges, like a Leone-like duel about ice cream-flavor, or an unforgettable stamped caused by a coffee thermos, many tender subplots like the birth of a little calf that made me for one second considering turning into vegetarian, and the growing complicity between Curly and Mitch. It's funny and warm, and although it does sometimes overdo the male-bonding thing, it never gets over the top. I felt for Mitch when he was wondering what his job was about, for Phil when he finally vented his anger repressed for many years on the bullies, and Ed who seems to incarnate this guilty pleasure, we, committed men, fantasize on? And the icing on the cake is the 'Magnificent Seven'-like score of the film which never seems out-of-place.
"City Slickers" is one of these few comedies that make you both laugh and think like "Groundhog Day" or "Back to the Future", but it doesn't take a fantasy device for that, just an Old West trip. And it's an invitation for each of us to find out this 'one thing' that counts the most, and which 'cowboy trip' would help us to figure out.
- Dec 11, 2012