City Slickers takes three middle-aged New York City residents experiencing a midlife crisis, and sends them to a dude ranch out west to recover their mojo. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are each perfect in their roles as three best friends trying to get out of their respective ruts, and Jack Palance’s Academy Award-winning performance has only grown more poignant with age.
The Production: 4.5/5
“Have you ever had that feeling that this is the best I’m ever gonna do, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel… and it ain’t that great?” – Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal)
City Slickers is a film that just works, a comedy that’s still fresh more than twenty-five years after its original release. At its heart, it’s a timeless story that remains relatable, a story about coming to terms with growing older. Mitch (Billy Crystal), Phil (Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby) are three lifelong friends who, despite taking different tracks in adulthood, are always there for each other when they need it.
After an entertaining prologue which sees the three friends participating in Spain’s bull running festival despite Mitch’s misgivings, which results in Mitch taking a horn in the rear, the film settles back in New York City where the protagonists live and work. Mitch is the family man, with a wife (Patricia Wettig) and two kids (the son played by Jake Gyllenhaal in his film debut, and the daughter played by Crystal’s real-life daughter, Lindsay) and a job as an ad buyer at a radio station. He loves his wife, he loves his children, he likes his job, but something is missing, and has been for a while. Phil has two kids of his own, a terrible wife who hates him, and a job working as an assistant manager at a grocery store owned by his father-in-law who makes him come in to work at 4am. Ed, by contrast, seems to be living the dream, owner of a successful sporting goods store and newly married to an underwear model, but who still has trouble settling into this new life he’s made for himself. Things come to a head at Mitch’s 39th birthday party, where Ed and Phil present him with a gift he initially declines: a two-week cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado where the three friends will get to live out their childhood fantasies, something straight out of Red River. The party is ruined when Phil’s wife finds out he’s having an affair with a clerk from the grocery store (Yeardley Smith, better known as the voice of Lisa Simpson, in a rare on-screen appearance). After the party, Mitch’s wife calls him out on his recent unhappiness, and tells him that he should go on the cattle drive with his friends and figure his way out of his funk.
The filmmakers (Billy Crystal conceived the idea and served as executive producer, bringing on writer Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and director Ron Underwood) made an incredibly smart choice by allowing the first act of the film to take place before the film shifts into western territory. By the time the leading trio of Mitch, Phil and Ed arrive in New Mexico, the audience is on their side, and the friendship they share feels absolutely real. The film’s greatest bits of humor come not from making fun of the western setting or old movie cliches, but in showing the evolution of these three guys from city folk who couldn’t tie a knot to save their lives to decent imitations of real cowboys. In fact, the film is a loving tribute to the western genre and the myths of the old west.
This reverence for the western and the west is best personified by Curly (Jack Palance, in a scene-stealing and Academy Award-winning performance), a crusty old trail boss who “crap[s] bigger than” guys like Mitch. For all of Mitch’s life, we can see from his friendships and marriage, he’s been one to use humor to deflect his feelings, able to disarm his colleagues while keeping his emotions at bay. Curly is the first person in Mitch’s life to see through the act, and though their scenes together represent only a small portion of the film, they speak to the heart of what the film is about. Curly tells Mitch early on that the meaning of life is “one thing,” but that it’s up to each person to find out what that thing is for themselves. As Mitch, Phil and Ed finally have conversations with each other that they’ve waited lifetimes to have, they begin to discover what that one thing could be for each of them.
Given how good Crystal, Stern, Kirby and Palance are, and given how well-written the script is, it could be easy to overlook just how good the rest of the credits on the film are, which would be a mistake. The film was shot by Dean Semler, just coming off his Academy Award win for Dances with Wolves; he imbues the scenery with a vibrant sense of life that bursts from the frame. The score was composed by Marc Shaiman and is outstanding; his main theme is a triumphant throwback to western epics of old, but what’s even more impressive is how he’s able to rearrange and reuse that theme to orchestrate the twists and turns the characters face along the way. As fellow guests on the trail, Josh Mostel, David Paymer, Bill Henderson, Phill Lewis and Helen Slater each make the most of their moments, with Mostel and Paymer particularly entertaining as a “Ben & Jerry’s”-type of ice cream magnates.
3D Rating: NA
City Slickers is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in a new 4K-derived transfer. (The packaging does not specify the element used for the transfer.) It’s a bright, colorful transfer which does justice to Semler’s photography. The image is perfectly stable and generally clean, with only a few minor instances of speckling throughout. Compared to the older MGM/FOX Blu-ray edition (which was actually one of their better looking releases), this new version from Shout Factory is sharper, steadier and slightly more colorful.
Two lossless soundtrack options are provided, both in the DTS-HD MA format: a 5.1 surround track and a 2.0 stereo track. The 5.1 track seems identical to the one from the previous MGM/FOX Blu-ray. The soundstage is mostly front oriented, but dialogue is well-recorded and easy to discern from the center channel, and the score sounds tremendous. A 2.0 stereo track is also included, which appears to be a simple fold down of the 5.1 mix. Though both tracks have good fidelity, the 5.1 is the clear winner.
Special Features: 2/5
All of the disc’s special features are carried over from the previous MGM/FOX Blu-ray release, which sourced those features from an earlier DVD release. Shout Factory has not added any new bonus material to this Shout Select release. While the actual content of these bonus features is insightful and entertaining, unfortunately, the material was authored poorly on the disc and appears to have been encoded at the wrong frame rate which gives the video a choppy appearance. With the exception of the trailer, the bonus material looks much worse than it should, and much worse than it did on the previous MGM/FOX Blu-ray. The low score is a direct result of the poor quality presentation; there is no reason for bonus material from this new disc to look worse than the same material did on the old disc. Owners of the previous Blu-ray edition would be well-advised to retain their copies of that release for the superior technical presentation of the bonus material.
Audio Commentary By Director Ron Underwood And Stars Billy Crystal And Daniel Stern – This commentary starts off fantastic, loses some steam in the middle, and then rebounds towards the end. Underwood, Crystal and Stern all have good insights and fond memories, but get a little too caught up in watching the film once the cattle drive gets underway.
Back In The Saddle: City Slickers Revisited (28:59, SD) – An insightful look into the genesis of the film and its production. Due to an encoding error by Shout Factory, the video quality is very poor.
Bringing In The Script (20:59, SD) – A detailed look into the scripting process, with candid comments from writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Due to an encoding error by Shout Factory, the video quality is very poor.
A Star Is Born: An Ode To Norman (6:14, SD) – Billy Crystal fondly recollects the scene where his character helps a cow give birth, and discusses what happened to the calf after production wrapped. Due to an encoding error by Shout Factory, the video quality is very poor.
The Real City Slickers (8:33, SD) – A featurette about real people who were inspired by the movie to take their own dude ranch vacations. Due to an encoding error by Shout Factory, the video quality is very poor.
Deleted Scenes (2:48, SD) – Two deleted scenes play together with introductions from director Ron Underwood and writers Ganz and Mandel. Due to an encoding error by Shout Factory, the video quality is very poor.
Trailer (2:54, HD) – The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in high definition and is properly encoded.
Reversible Cover Art – One side includes Shout’s new cover design, while the other side includes the original theatrical poster design.
City Slickers is a fantastic film that holds up remarkably well more than twenty-five years after its original release. Everything in it, from the script to the casting to the direction, is pitch perfect, and there’s very little in the story to date the actual film. If this is a film you’ve thought about picking up before but had never actually grabbed a copy, or if you’ve only owned the film on DVD, this new Shout Select release is an obvious choice. Where it gets a little trickier is whether or not this is worthy of an upgrade for owners of the previous Blu-ray. The Shout Select release does retain all of the features of the previous releases, but Shout sadly have not added any of their usual quality extras to this edition. Even worse, due to an authoring error, the bonus features are presented with a video stutter that makes them unpleasant to watch. And while the new transfer is indeed a noticeable improvement over the previous disc, it’s not a night-and-day difference. (I would give the original disc a 4/5 for picture quality, while this new disc rates a 4.5/5.) Ultimately, City Slickers is a fantastic film and well-worth owning, but owners of the previous Blu-ray may be satisfied with what they already have.