July 8, 2008

Reviewedby Cal Kemp

I think I’m exactly the wrong age to appreciate “City Slickers”. I was a kid when it came out in 1991 and, while I didn’t catch it in theaters, I do remember it being one of those mainstay rentals that my parents raved about and — as a kid — I really enjoyed. Rewatching it now, though, in my twenties, I’m not quite feeling it.

The big problem, I think, is that the film is essentially a cynical guy who goes through a bit of a midlife crisis with his friends and learns to be less cynical in the process. But it’s all a little to forced and a little to cutesy. Is it possible I’m actually cynical of cynicism itself?

To be fair, the movie is solid. It’s decently crafted and has some strong performances, including the role that won Jack Palance an Oscar. On the other hand, though, it’s the “Wild Hogs” of its day and what was once decent popcorn dramedy in 1991 now, fifteen years later, sort of feels like it has to man up and become a bonafide classic or disappear into casual nostalgic fondness. Sadly, I think “City Slickers” is destined for the later.

The story has average middle-aged family man Mitch (Billy Crystal) sort of going through the doldrums of life. He hates his job, his kids don’t respect him and he’s realizing that his better days may be behind him. Things are going similarly for his friends; One, Ed (Bruno Kirby, who actually gives a truly fantastic performance) has commitment issues and another, Phil (Daniel Stern) has just been caught cheating on his wife and is headed for divorce.

The three end up vacationing together to a themed-ranch where people can participate in actual cattle drives. Finding the childhood cowboy in all of them, the trio has to deal with troublesome ranch hands and tough-as-nails cowboy leader Curly (Jack Palance). Palance is good but — and maybe this is just the retrospect talking — nowhere near Oscar-level. Especially since he’d later return to the play the character’s twin brother in the unnecessary sequel “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”.

As far as special features go, the disc is decently equipped. We’ve got a cast commentary that I actually enjoyed quite a bit more than rewatching the film. Billy Crystal comes off as exceedingly generous and humble, complimenting everyone’s work that went into the film. He’s joined by Ron Underwood and Daniel Stern, both of whom reflect fondly on the experience, both waxing nostalgic while including a lot of fun trivia.

There are three featurettes which are fun but mostly forgettable. “City Slickers Revisited” sums up the production with photos and interviews, “Writing City Slickers” focuses on script to screen process and “A Star is Born” looks at the baby calf (actually several calves), Norman. Each running about ten minutes, it’s somewhat a case of what could have been one significant documentary being chopped up to pad the features, but their presence is still appreciated.

As I said, I feel a little bad for not enjoying “City Slickers” as much as I wanted to. It’s a decent film with some good performances but gives off a decidedly 90’s vibe that I still find a little grating. Maybe I’ll come back to it in 15 years or so and see if my feelings have changed.

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