Sony // 1983 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 20th, 2002
Your basic survival comedy.
I want to be upfront with you. I know that some of you are downhearted. You're disenchanted, deconstructed, and disillusioned. You think that you're lost in a sea of endless Jim Carrey flicks and mindless teen gross-out comedies. Life is like a vacuous hole and seemingly nothing can fill it up. Brothers and sisters, I am here to spread the word that there are still movies out there that will make you laugh! There are hidden gems that will teach your heart to sing, lift your sprits, and tickle your funny bone! Can I get an amen from the DVD congregation??!?
Friends and neighbors, I want to tell you about The Survivors! It's a comedy like nothing you've ever seen before (well, almost nothing). It stars Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, Insomnia) and Walter Matthau (Cactus Flower, Grumpy Old Men) in a story about two men trying to survive life...and each other. The Survivors is now on DVD care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Give praise, your salvation has arrived!
Donald Quinelle (Williams) and Sonny Paluso (Matthau) have nothing in common -- except for a desire to stay alive! While dining the two men are involved in a restaurant holdup that backfires leaving Sonny and Donald with a glimpse of Jack Locke (played with friendly-yet-menacing relish by Jerry Reed), the gunman who accidentally shoots Donald in the arm. After a hospital recovery, Donald appears in a TV news editorial explaining the virtues of being a citizen that "won't stand for crime." Unfortunately, he inadvertently slips out Sonny's full name, giving Jack an opportunity to find both Sonny and Donald. Jack breaks into Sonny's home with the anticipation to snuff out any evidence of his crime spree. Luckily, Donald arrives just in time to help Sonny and his teenage daughter thwart Jacks' advances and hand him over to the proper authorities. After this serious brush with death, Donald decides to chuck it all and become a survivalist nut, leaving his adorable fiancée to go live in the snowy woods with a band of whacked out, Armageddon anticipating morons. When Jack goes free due to our lousy legal system he comes looking for Sonny with a proposition: get Donald to stay quiet about the hold up (as well as Sonny) and he'll leave them in peace. When Sonny goes into the winter thicket to find Donald and share Jack's request, Donald's response will set of a chain reaction of both action and hilarity!
The Survivors isn't a movie that begs for in-depth analysis. Here is a film so silly, so goofy, and so funny that you just sit back and enjoy it for what it is: pure comedy. Whoever thought that Matthau and Williams would work well in a movie was a genius: Matthau's dry wit and Williams' manic comedy mesh surprisingly well. Matthau has always been an actor who elevates any script to a higher level just by letting his basset hound mug fall into the frame. While I can't say that every Robin Williams movie has been a winner (Patch Adams, anyone?), the fact is that when given the right screenplay and some funny situations, Williams is able to make the audience crack-up with a single witty one-liner.
The Survivors was directed by the late Michael Ritchie, who also helmed the fervently funny Fletch movies starring the underrated Chevy Chase (studios! I beg you! Give Mr. Chase another shot at being a star!). Ritchie uses a sure hand and just the right restraint in getting a brilliant comedic pairing out of Williams and Matthau. The laughs comes fast and unexpected, especially from Jack Reed as the film's antagonist -- the fact that by the end of the film you like him says a lot about how well this script was fleshed out. This isn't to say that The Survivors is the best comedy ever made -- there are some lagging spots in the story, and Sonny's daughter (played by the cute Kristen Vigard) isn't really necessary to the plot. However, these are really minor detractions -- overall I had a great time watching this movie. In fact, I was a little sad to see it end as it reminded me that these days Hollywood really only produces cheap teen flicks that rely on bunghole jokes and sperm-in-a-beer gags to make the audience laugh (or in my case, gag). The Survivors gets bonus points for one of my favorite one-liners in recent memory: when Williams character steps up to a car in a giant, fur covered coat and hood, his beady eyes peek out of his Eskimo like face fuzz as he announces, "I feel like a gynecologist for a grizzly bear." Young screenwriters take heed: now that's funny writing.
There are some movies that are solely used for educational purposes. There are others utilized for artistic merit. And then there are movies like The Survivors: just out-and-out entertainment. The movie includes no redeeming messages or deep social probing -- it just wants to make you laugh, and on that level it succeeds with flying colors.
The Survivors is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia's efforts on this title fall somewhere between mediocre to good; while the transfer certainly contains a fair amount of grain and dirt, overall the image looks very good for a film almost two decades old. Some of the colors tend to reflect some softness in the picture, though overall they were clear with dark black levels. My guess is that this is the best the film is ever going to look on DVD.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono (or so I assume...the package doesn't specify) in French and English. Overall fidelity was lacking, though the mix was free of excessive distortion or noise. This is mainly a dialogue driven comedy, so the soundtrack aptly supports the film. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
Someone get out their bazooka 'cause I'm a goin' huntin' for the scoundrel who produced this DVD's extra features! The only supplements available on this disc are trailers for the Columbia comedies The Big Hit, Jawbreaker and, happily, The Survivors. Certainly a commentary track by Ritchie would have been most welcome before his passing, though the lack of extras on this slight Columbia release isn't all that surprising.
A good comedy just isn't complete without one scene featuring Walter Matthau rolling his eyes and huffing like a 145 year old jogger. Luckily for us, The Survivors includes about three of these scenes. I highly recommend this little seen film for those just in the mood to just giggle. Columbia's work on the disc is fair -- nothing horrid, nothing great.
The Survivors is nuts, but it's free to go! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Three Theatrical Trailers