Coming two years after Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, 1991’s City Slickers tapped into some of that big screen hit’s same listlessness and ennui, deeply felt by an aging boomer population. The story centers around New York City family man Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal), who finds himself sort of going through the motions — he’s unhappy with his advertising job at a radio station, frets that his kids don’t respect him (little Jake Gyllenhaal makes his screen
debut as Mitch’s youngest, while Crystal’s real-life daughter Lindsay
plays his eldest screen kid), and generally feels the soul-deadening crush of impending middle-age. His wife Barbara (Patricia Wettig) wonders where the smile and spring in the step of her husband have gone.
Things are similarly screwy for Mitch’s friends: Grocery store manager Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) finds himself teetering on the edge of divorce, while commitment-phobe Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby) keeps intimacy at bay through habitually dating a string of much younger women. Trading their briefcases for saddlebags, the three longtime pals decide to beat a retreat from the hustle and bustle of big city life, and take a vacation together at a New Mexico theme ranch where people can live on the land and take part in cattle drives. There, under the tutelage of grizzled cowhand Curly Washburn (Jack Palance), the men locate a pinch of the wonderment of adolescence. Out of place but enthralled, they, along with an array of other vacationing city folk, learn about the Old West and themselves.
Crystal may have still been in his early 40s when City Slickers was made, but the idea of him playing a 39-year-old may be among the biggest stretches of credulity on display in this film (hence the ubiquitous Mets baseball cap his character wears, to cover his chrome dome and aid in this regard). Still, despite a few obvious set-ups (Helen Slater guests as a single gal on the same ranch trip), the script offers up a quotable skewering of colliding cultures. As directed by Ron Underwood (Tremors, The Adventures of Pluto Nash), the movie also has the benefit of solid pacing and staging; known-commodity jokes don’t linger too long, which helps still give City Slickers, all these years later, a bit of a leg up on most of its masculine-angst brethren — like Wild Hogs, which was obviously based upon this movie, at least in the loosest sense.
The special edition presentation of City Slickers, housed in a regular, plastic Amray case with cardboard slipcover, comes with a nice array of bonus material. Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, it come with English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby digital stereo surround audio tracks, a Spanish language Dolby stereo surround track and a French mono mix, as well as optional English and Spanish subtitles, the latter of which instantly make the urban cowboy kvetching even funnier, in bits and spurts. An audio commentary track with director Underwood, Crystal and Stern kickstarts the affair, and it’s a genial, all-inclusive affair. Naturally, lots of kind words are reserved for Palance, who of course would go on to stake his claim on AARP virility with his famous Oscar telecast performance of a bunch of one-armed push-ups.
Four featurettes follow, all running around 10 minutes, give or take. Though all feature interview segments interspersed with clips from the the movie, one is more of a generalized making-of, with the cast and crew reminiscing specifically about production. In another, longtime writing tandem Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel also revisit their experiences, and chart how they came to be involved in the project. The remaining two featurettes are a bit more out-of-field, with “A Star is Born” showcasing the baby calf (actually several calves, of course) used in the movie, and “The Real City Slickers,” slickly packaged self-congratulation as only Hollywood can, throwing a spotlight on people who were inspired to go on a real-life cattle drive after seeing the movie. One’s mind might wander here, wondering why there wasn’t a similarly canted featurette on Must Love Dogs, about all the women inspired to try online dating when shown Diane Lane‘s hook-up with John Cusack. A clutch of deleted scenes rounds out the collection, in fine form. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) B (Disc)