City Slickers: Shout Select Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (28th October 2018).
The Film

After having survived the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona the previous year with a goring, radio advertising salesman Mitch Robbins (Analyze This' Billy Crystal) resolves not to let himself get talked into another thrill-seeking vacation with his macho sports equipment salesman friend Ed Furillo (Good Morning, Vietnam's Bruno Kirby) and childhood friend turned grocery store manager Phil Berquist (Home Alone's Daniel Stern) who is so henpecked by his shrewish wife Arlene (Forever Young's Karla Tamburrelli) that he has a death wish. On the day of his thirty-ninth birthday, however, Mitch has his authority to buy ads taken away by his boss Lou (Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor) after planting a particularly irritating earworm on New York's listeners, and has a meltdown while talking to his son's (Jarhead's Jake Gyllenhaal) class on career day. At his birthday party that night, Ed proves that his apparent settling down by marrying twenty-four year old underwear model Kim (Dante's Peak's Walker Brandt) has not tempered his adrenalin as he and Phil spring a trip to Colorado driving cattle at a dude ranch on him as a present. It turns out that Phil has even more of a reason to get away when checker Nancy (The Simpsons' Yeardley Smith) crashes the party announcing that did not get her period and took a pregnancy test, sending his wife into a rage and off to tell his domineering father-in-law. Seeing that Mitch is experiencing some of the same issues as his friends but trying to hide them beneath humor, his wife Barbara (thirtysomething's Patricia Wettig) insists that he take the trip with Ed and Phil rather than joining her, their son, and daughter (My Giant's Lindsay Crystal) on a trip to see her parents whom he hates. Also along for the adventure are father and son black dentists Ben (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension's Bill Henderson) and Steve Jessup (Heathers' Phil Lewis), ice cream company presidents Barry (Get Shorty's David Paymer) and Ira Shalowitz (The Money Pit's Josh Mostel) who have not quite left all of the modern conveniences behind, and lone female Bonnie Rayburn (The Legend of Billie Jean's Helen Slater) stood up by her female friend and coming off of a bad relationship. Over the next few days, the "city slickers" are trained in roping and riding in preparation to drive a herd of cattle to Arizona under ranch owners Clay (The Howling's Noble Willingham) and Millie (Moving's Molly McClure). The cook "Cookie" (Batman's Tracey Walter) is a drunk, and professional cowboys T.R. (Honeymoon in Vegas's Dean Hallo) and Jeff (Homicide: Life on the Street's Kyle Secor) are abusive, but grizzled trail boss Curly (Shane's Jack Palance) keeps them in check. While Ben and Steve are hoping to reconnect as father and son outside of the practice, Bonnie is there to regroup and find herself, and the brothers Shalowitz are there to be rugged and outdoorsy, the main trio's attempts at opening up are rocky and fraught with resentment as Ed's doubts about settling down seem shallow on the surface to Phil who has lost everything while Mitch continues to mask his own self-doubt. Mitch rubs Curly the wrong way with his humor, and earns his further contempt when his battery-operated coffee grinder spooks the cattle and sends them trampling over the camp before running off into the valley. The two men, however, find common ground while tracking down the last of the stray cattle as Curly tells Mitch that he is not going to fix himself inside until he can figure out what is really important to him. Mitch and Curly return to camp with Norman, the calf that Mitch has birthed by hand. When Curly suddenly dies, the city slickers are determined to continue the cattle drive under T.R. and Jeff until a drunk Cookie drives the chuck wagon off a cliff, breaking both of his legs and losing most of their food supplies. The unreliability and behavior of T.R. and Jeff also put the rest of the team in doubt about their ability to complete the cattle run and they must make the choice to split off or abandon the herd to the elements.

A comedy about the mid-life crises of a trio of New York neurotics seemed an unlikely hit, even with Crystal's creative control as producer and uncredited writer; but City Slickers proved to be something of a family hit at the time even with some of its humor on the cruder side of the PG-13 rating. Watched afresh, the setup of Mitch's midlife crisis is as derivative as the depiction of his disconnected attitude to his commute and working environment, and Crystal's overuse of his particularly pronunciation of "hello" gets old fast. Kirby's shallow Ed is similarly seems initially played for humor, with only Stern's loser wringing out humor and pathos as he ping-pongs between groveling and screaming resentment ("I'm tellin' you, they got me by the balls. She's got one, he's got the other," he says of his wife and father-in-law). The aww-factor of Mitch's birthing of Norman also does not seem hard won, and the further complications too easily foreseen as the film seems to rush towards its third act. Supporting characters drop away as we are pretty much told by the script that they are going to be okay because they have figured out that what is important to them is one another. Although the third act is long on the action, it is actually most successful in playing off the trio's positive and negative traits off one another and making the audience believe that they are the lifelong friends who would of course risk their lives to save each other but can only care more about each other if they move past sports talk and hypothetical sexual situations and open up about their underlying insecurities as to why Ed really has fears about responsibility, why Phil has a hard time looking at his situation as a fresh start, and Mitch knows what is important to him but not if he can hold onto it. The lensing of Dean Semler (Dead Calm) turns the scenery into a character itself, but the main theme of Marc Shaiman (Sleepless in Seattle) does more of the dramatic heavy-lifting than the script, even becoming almost parodic with its recurrent use. The storyline may resonate more with viewers now who saw it when much younger, but some may be too woke to want to share the film with their own children.

Video

Released theatrically by Columbia Pictures, City Slickers was issued on VHS and laserdisc (fullscreen in 1991, widescreen in 1994) by New Line Home Entertainment who purchased the Castle Rock library for video distribution. When Castle Rock passed to MGM, they put out a VHS in the late nineties, followed by a barebones, anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2001 and a collector's edition in 2008. A Blu-ray followed in 2011, and its extras have been carried over to Shout! Factory's Shout Select line Blu-ray supplementing a brand new 4K-mastered transfer. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode is stunning, improving on the already great MGM release with an enhanced sense of depth that at first makes the differences between the second unit Pamplona footage and the first unit Universal backlot footage more apparent before it thrusts Crystal's screaming maw right at the screen. The shift in the color palette from cool spiked with saturated to the more earthy green, browns, and oranges of the desert is striking, and the viewer gets a sense of the sweltering heat and stickiness, as well as the fine dust rising off of everything (and presumably getting into the moving parts of the cameras and lenses). The stormy third act also reveals a disparity with the second unit inserts "feeling" flatter in contrast to the shots with the actual performers braving the elements.

Audio

City Slickers was mixed in Dolby Stereo and the laserdisc and cassettes mixed for Dolby Surround playback; and MGM's initial DVD also featured a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track. The film was not remixed to 5.1 until the aforementioned special edition, and it was the only English track of choice for MGM's Blu-ray. Shout's Blu-ray features both 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, and they both offer enveloping listening experiences, with the 2.0 track utilizing the surrounds for atmosphere which becomes predominant in the third act while the 5.1 also gives more spread into the surrounds for Shaiman's score and some subtle directionality to the rear channel effects. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by director Ron Underwood, actor/producer Billy Crystal, and actor Daniel Stern which is an entertaining track in which the trio's laughter at the dialogue is interspersed with discussion of the project. Crystal discusses the autobiographical aspects of the script which was the first of his projects with Castle Rock under contract after his success in When Harry Met Sally and pointing out friends and relatives in the film. Stern provides more anecdotes about his character, the shoot, and some of the other supporting cast. Crystal reveals that he wanted Underwood after seeing Tremors while Underwood reveals that he tried to get cinematographer Semler for that film. A lot of the information is also carried over to the video featurettes. Back in the Saddle: City Slickers Revisited (28:59) features the participation of Underwood, Crystal, Stern, Slater, Wettig, and writers Lowell Ganz (Splash) & Babaloo Mandel (Multiplicity). Semler also appears briefly and has the indignity of being credited onscreen as "Dean Selmer". Mandel and Ganz also appear in Bringing In the Script: Writing City Slickers (20:59) in which they discuss his heavy involvement while feeling like they were on equal footing with him even in a war of competing ideas. A Star Is Born: An Ode to Norman (6:14) discusses the shooting of Norman's birth. Maintaining a number of pregnant cows for the shoot was not practical, so they used a real calf and an anatomically correct prosthetic lower half of a cow. Underwood also mentions that the sequence was constructed from three different shooting sessions as coverage was added along with some additional humor from Crystal. The Real City Slickers (8:55) visits a real dude ranch to look at the influence of the film on a variety of people (including a lot of women in this case) inspired to take a similar adventure. The deleted scenes are introduced by Underwood who discusses his reasons for dropping them despite their being well-received by test audiences. Sadly, something has gone wrong with the encoding of these formerly SD extras and the framerate stutters. This may be acceptable as it does not really effect the flow of the programs which are mainly talking heads and clips. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:54).

Packaging

The cover is reversible and a slipcover is included (along with an 18" x 24" poster for copies ordered directly from Shout! Factory).

Overall

 


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