City Slickers (1991)

You don’t get movies a whole lot more fun than this one. City Slickers is a comedy about a trio of men escaping from everyday life by going on a cattle drive. As you can expect, there’s enough hilarity to be had with this premise alone, considering the three men are from the city and therefore know nothing about the more rural lifestyle. However, this is also a film that allows its characters to go on tangents, to talk about things that actually matter. It’s funny, but it’s also thoughtful. And it’s a blast.

There is an undeniable lead, who comes in the form of a man in the midst of a midlife crisis, Mitch (Billy Crystal). He has just turned 39 years of age, and everything in life seems to bore him. His friends, a subservient depressive named Phil (Daniel Stern) and a womanizer trapped in the past, Ed (Bruno Kirby), decide that their yearly vacation will be to a ranch, to participate in an actual cattle drive. Just the guys. No wives, girlfriends, children, or family. It’s a getaway where they’ll be free to “find themselves,” whatever that means.

You get many scenes you’ll expect in City Slickers. One of them can’t rope cattle. Learning the ropes proves difficult for all of them. The trail boss, Curly (Jack Palance), is one tough son-of-a-gun, and frightens everyone. Watching this is a lot of fun, and even if the drive never got underway, the City Slickers still probably would have been a success. However, the film is kicked into the next level as soon as our protagonists get on horseback and start moving that cattle across state lines.

City Slickers isn’t a fast-paced film. It allows for many digressions and stops along the way. Moving cattle isn’t a quick process, and neither is this movie. It is the amount of time we spend with these characters, all the while just trying to figure out who they are and where to take their lives, that makes this picture something special. It has a heart, it has a brain, and it knows how to make you laugh and feel something. These characters have thoughts and feelings and the movie they’re in assumes that you do, too, and that you would like to use both while watching it.

With all the conversations throughout City Slickers, it’s hard to think of just one that stuck out. The funniest, for me at least, was the one involving using a VCR. It included the one moment where I burst out laughing. Most of the movie is good for a chuckle, but it was at this moment, right at the tail end of the conversation, when I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Whether this was the culmination of much pent-up laughter or the result of a single line, I’ll never be sure.

There’s something in the film for everyone. If you want to experience some of the perils of a cattle drive — at times performed solely by people who had never previously been on a horse — you’ll get that. If you want a film about the journey of three men attempting to discover things about life, either through observations or conversations, you’ll get that, too. Or, if you just want to laugh for a couple of hours, City Slickers delivers in this area.

It all feels real, too, in large part because of its characters. Mitch, Phil and Ed might be a touch broad, but you can either see yourself or someone close to you in at least one of them. They all have flaws that need fixing — and to my surprise, there’s some ambiguity in regards to whether or not they are fixed by the end — and they talk with each other like regular people would.

All three of the lead actors have such an easygoing chemistry with the others, which makes spending time with them very enjoyable. They play off one another, they have some great banter, and the things they talk about throughout are important topics. And the film is assured enough to allow us to watch them have these digressions. It doesn’t need to throw constant action at us; it feels comfortable in allowing us to sit back and listen, watch, and enjoy these characters. Seeing them progress as City Slickers plays is satisfying.

Mention must also be made of Jack Palance’s performance as the trail boss. He’s playing the grizzled veteran of the field, a “dying breed” of cowboy who speaks only when required and always has a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth. Palance’s lines are brilliant and they are delivered with such authority and gravitas that you become fearful for the other actors. Despite being around the age of 70, Palance easily kept up with his younger co-stars. He also provides some food for thought as the film goes on, and you take it seriously because of the man who says it.

City Slickers is a great movie, almost regardless of what you’re looking for. It provides a lot of humor, some intelligence, and a great deal of heart. It has good actors, a very humorous script, and enough emotional and intellectual weight to satisfy even those who don’t just want a simple comedy. This is a movie that can be watched again and again, by everyone in the family, and it will never get old. It was also made with the confidence to allow for important and interesting digressions, even if it delays the plot. I really enjoyed City Slickers, and I recommend that everyone should give it a watch.

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