Judge Patrick Naugle once had a pet armadillo named Norman.
Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal, Analyze This) is nearing 40 and finding life to be less fulfilling than he ever imagined. Although he's married to a beautiful woman (Patricia Wettig, Thirtysomething), has a healthy family and a lucrative job selling ad space on the radio; Mitch still feels something is missing. After a disastrous birthday party where his buddy Phil (Daniel Stern, The Wonder Years) is caught in an affair with a checkout girl, Mitch takes his other friend Ed (the late Burno Kirby, When Harry Met Sally) up on an offer to go rustle cattle on a real working dude ranch. When Mitch, Ed and Phil arrive they meet a group of other 'city slickers' (including David Paymer and Helen Slater) ready to try their hand at being cowboys. During the two week trek Mitch reluctantly forms a friendship with the weathered trail boss, Curly (Jack Palance, Batman), and discovers that the meaning of life may just be somewhere out beyond the Colorado sunset with his two best friends and a heard of stampeding cattle.
It's always nice to see a movie make it through the passage of time. Whereas a lot of other '90s comedies appear creaky and unfunny, director Ron Underwood's vastly entertaining City Slickers is just as charming and witty as it was when I was entering my formative teenage years. By all accounts it shouldn't work after all this time—there are many reasons City Slickers shouldn't be as fresh as it is. Hollywood magic has graced this cowboy comedy and the laughs are still as hearty as they were in 1991.
Much of the praise for City Slickers must go to four specific people. First and second are writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Best. Name. Ever.) who constructed a screenplay that isn't just funny (it is) but also heartwarming. Yes, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty the fact is there is a lot of saccharine inside the script. Yet when the final moments arrive you feel as if the characters have all earned their moments of tears and laughs. Ganz and Mandel shove a lot of one-liners at the audience, but also inject the whole thing with a sense of mortality and ruminations on what it means to be a man, grow old and find a place of peace in your life. Those are some pretty lofty topics for a comedy to touch on.
Third is director Ron Underwood, who already scores high on my list as he was the guy behind the fantastic cult classic Tremors. Underwood's direction clips along and trims any fat from the final cut of the film. Moments that aren't really required are never boring—even if a conversation doesn't move the story along they're at least always amusing and funny. Whenever City Slickers begins veering into overly sentimental territory, Underwood reigns it in with a great supporting cast (the standouts being Stern as the overly wound Phil and Oscar winner Jack Palance as the crusty trail boss). It's a delicate balancing act to keep each element in balance and Underwood does a masterful job of making all the puzzle pieces fit.
Finally, there's actor Billy Crystal who makes the movie his own. Crystal's one liners and double takes are the peak of his career—I doubt he'll ever find another movie that fits his comedic style so well. The moments when Mitch is riding the trail with Curly are some of the great exchanges in comedy history; these are two characters that wouldn't normally spend more than 10 seconds in each other's presence, but are suddenly thrown together in the great open West. It makes for some hugely amusing belly laughs. It's clear that Crystal dabbled in the City Slickers screenplay—too many moments feel too authentically 'Billy' to be the work of another writer.
Either way, City Slickers came together to become one of the best comedies of the 1990s and well worth revisiting.
City Slickers is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. The image quality here is very good for an older catalog release. Although there are a lot of 'filmic' elements here (the print isn't as pristine as one might hope), it's very representative of the original release. Colors are crisply rendered and the people and scenery looks clear and well rendered. Overall this should make fans happy.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. For a movie almost two decades old, City Slickers certainly sounds very good. Although this soundtrack isn't overly bombastic or heavily utilized in the rear speakers (save for some stampede scenes), it's well recorded and an accurate representation of the original sound mix. Also included on this disc are French, Spanish and English subtitles as well as a Dolby 2.0 mix in Spanish and a Dolby Mono mix in French.
The extra features (mostly ported over from the previous DVD release) include a commentary track with director Ron Underwood and actor/producer Billy Crystal, a half hour documentary/retrospective titled "Back in the Saddle: City Slickers Revisited" (which includes Crystal, Stern, Underwood and more), "Bringing in the Script: Writing City Slickers" about the story's origin and creation, a short featurette on Norman the calf ("A Star is Born: An Ode to Norman"), and "The Real City Slickers" which deals with real life dude ranches and some deleted scenes from the film.
City Slickers is still a lot of fun and comes highly recommended.
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