City Slickers (1991) — Cows fix all mid-life crises

“I crap bigger than you!”

Justin’s rating: All it takes is a really good hat

Justin’s review: Until I revisited this classic from a long, long time ago, I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Not the cowboys or mid-life crisis themes — no, I needed a good dose of wholesome comedy and Billy Crystal. Crystal doesn’t get a lot of nostalgic chatter these days, but he should because his roles in the ’80s and ’90s were gold. (No, not Curly’s gold, that’s the sequel).

Billy Crystal simply has a way about him. He’s not mugging for the camera or doing Robin Williams-type hyperactive mimicry; rather, I like his genial deadpan remarks and soliloquies. He’s like a whip-smart yet snarky uncle who knows that he can make you giggle if you let him talk long enough.

Anyway, on to City Slickers! Crystal is Mitch, part of a trio of friends who attempt to reclaim their youth through daring experiences on an annual basis. But when Mitch hits 39 and struggles to find his motivation, his friend Phil (Daniel Stern) wants to escape his horrible wife, and Ed (Bruno Kirby) wants a new thrill, the three head out to the west to go on a genuine cattle drive.

I wouldn’t say that this is one of the formative movies from my youth, but I am greatly fond of it. It wasn’t just the fish-out-of-water buffoonery (although I’m not knocking that element!) but the fact that the whole movie is a man’s quest… to find his smile. His “one thing” that lifts his spirits. Never have the stakes in a film been so low yet so high.

Along with a gaggle of other comedy movie oddballs, the trio are coached along in their new lives by Curly (Jack Palance), a cantankerous bit of chiseled grit who’s part old time western and part boot camp instructor. They learn how to ride horses, help cows give birth, and lasso like their lives depend on it. And it just might, because Curly up and dies in the middle of the drive, leaving the “city slickers” to complete the job.

If it’s been a while for you since you’ve seen this — or, heaven forbid, you never did — you owe it to yourself to revisit City Slickers. I had forgotten how quotable this movie is and how likable its characters. Palance got the role of a lifetime as Curly, but I’m not going to sell Billy Crystal short as Mitch, either. He’s a low-key wisecracker with a heart of gold. I had a blast revisiting this masterful western gem.

Yee-ha! Good times.

Didja notice?

  • Man, I miss the days of high-profile comedies with animated title sequences
  • “Don’t sew up anything that’s supposed to remain open!”
  • “Soon you’ll be dating sperm!”
  • Mitch lip-syncing with his mom’s story (which is apparently something Crystal’s real mom did)
  • This is a very inappropriate career day speech
  • The kid popping his shoulder… ack
  • Hey it’s Lisa from Simpsons
  • “It’s his night to be at home with the other escaped Nazis!”
  • “Go and find your smile.” I always liked that line.
  • Everyone should have a jacket with their own picture on it
  • “Hi, I’m Phil. I committed adultery and lost my job and my family.” “His jacket’s being made.”
  • “You know, when I was alive I would have found her attractive.”
  • Dressing room montage
  • I like the little lasso training cow
  • “Oh, I was watching them castrate a horse.”
  • “There’s a stampede… in your tent!”
  • That’s some scared harmonica playing
  • Mitch’s “Rawhide” version
  • “Is that a happy face?”
  • Mitch explaining how VCRs work did not age well

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