Home Video Hovel: City Slickers, by David Bax
There’s one thing that can be said for Ron Underwood’s City Slickers (now out on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory): It has a top-of-the-line 1991 cast. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Patricia Wettig, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter, Josh Mostel, David Paymer, Yeardley Smith and even a very young Jake Gyllenhaal. Unfortunately, the movie’s tone, themes and sense of humor also feel trapped in amber. The only truly timeless element is another cast member, an adorable calf named Norman.
Crystal, Stern, and Kirby star as Mitch, Phil and Ed, milquetoast New York City friends who falsely attribute their malaise as well as their personal shortcomings as husbands, fathers and lovers to some kind of citified, neutered, inauthentic version of maleness. So they head out west to a sort of cowboy fantasy camp to become men again.
There’s rich potential in the conflict between the characters’ superficial notions of masculinity and the fact that their real problems come from deeper and more personalized internal shortcomings. But Crystal’s then-hegemonic stardom constantly realigns the film into his, not his character’s, orbit. Thus, City Slickers becomes something akin to the sitcoms that were being handed out at the time to successful stand-ups. He’s not playing Mitch, he’s doing a routine. He’s always got a punchline. When he complains about the meaninglessness of his radio ad sales job: “I sell air!” When he relates the story of his daughter falling off the stage in the school talent show: “That’s not talent, that’s gravity!” “I’ve never mosied before.” “Helllooooo?” He hams it up so thoroughly that Marc Shaiman’s western-parody score can barely keep up.
This is all the more irritating since the bones of a more interesting movie are still clearly detectable. The main conflicts come not from the endless set-pieces of stampede chasing and calf-delivering but from differences between the characters that play out with levels of antipathy and confidence that are only reachable amidst the safety net of strong friendship. That’s the movie City Slickers ought to be. Instead, it’s mostly Crystal yelling into the camera, “I’m on vacation!”
Shout!’s new 4K scan looks good, with Dean Semler’s sunbaked outdoor photography well represented, though the aerial shots in the film’s Pamplona-set prologue have the look of stock footage. The audio, a 5.1 mix, is great for Shaiman’s bombastic score, provided it doesn’t get on your nerves too much.
Special features include an audio commentary by Underwood, Crystal and Stern; a look back featurette; a featurette on the writing of the screenplay; a featurette about Norman; a featurette about the “real” City Slickers; and deleted scenes.