City Slickers (1991)
City Slickers (1991)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: June 7th, 1991 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Ron Underwood Actors: Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter, David Paymer, Jeffrey Tambor

 


 

“C

ity Slickers” is not only a hilarious comedy, but also a sterling, dynamic character study, brimming with thoughtful examinations of midlife crises, family contention, expectations, friendships, and discovering the important – and little things – in life. Its approach to comedy is transcendent thanks to this blending of amusingly existential antics and a solidly scripted story. Further packed with Billy Crystal’s signature cynicism (and recognizably high-pitched laughter), funny sidekicks, and some serious action, “City Slickers” deservedly made it on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Laughs” top comedies list.

Three friends reach a midlife crisis, in which they simply want to find a purpose for their seemingly meaningless existences. Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby), the competitive risk-taker, convinces the group to go on a vacation that involves herding cattle across the Midwest, from New Mexico to Colorado. For a couple of weeks they’ll be real cowboys, along with other city slickers itching for excitement; it’s not a dude ranch but a real working enterprise. Reluctant at first, Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal), a radio station ad time salesman, and Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern), a supermarket manager, give in and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. From rowdy ranch hands to haywire stampedes to raging river rapids, the trio of friends begins to find meaning in their lives and their friendships and even insights into themselves.

The plot is an engaging mix of drama and humor, nicely balanced with strong performances, individualistic character designs, and efficient pacing. The film starts with a chase scene, in which the timid Mitch and Phil are coerced into running with the bulls down the crowded streets of Mexico; this is followed by the stark contrast of a wildly irrational (or perhaps sensible) Robbins dealing with dejecting events. These include his depression over his son (Jake Gyllenhaal in a very early role) disapproving of his career; his 39th birthday party weighing on his conscience, highlighting the disappointing significance of his current accomplishments; and a calm dinner party that ends in a marital disaster outburst for the adulterous Berquist.

More than the rambunctious comedic moments (flavored with relatable relationship drama), it’s the colorful group of supporting roles that really stands out. Curly, the cool and collected, tough and leathery trail boss (an Oscar-winning performance for Best Supporting Actor Jack Palance) is an authentic cowboy, left over from a simpler, harsher time. Helen Slater provides the love interest and capable female representation for a film dominated by leading men, and Josh Mostel and David Paymer are the ice cream manufacturing brothers who provide quite possibly the funniest scene in the film – involving a showdown of guessing ice cream flavors that perfectly complement a given meal.

At the forefront, Billy Crystal displays his typical brand of humor, fittingly embodying a role written for him, while Palance’s gravelly-voiced persona is unforgettable as the centerpiece for Mitch’s change of heart. Edging out a few hints of moral preachiness are plenty of action sequences – along the lines of those found in straight Westerns – resulting from an accidental stampede, a particularly suspenseful ride through raging waters to rescue a calf, and continual conflict from drunken, antagonistic cowhands. Comedies as rich as “City Slickers” are rare; few take the time to craft personable roles and thought-provoking themes while still deftly utilizing slapstick, snappy dialogue, and comical scenarios. Also, the music by Marc Shaiman is utterly fantastic.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10