PLOT (spoiler alert!!!)
New Yorker Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) has just turned 39 years old, and is thick in the middle of a midlife crisis. His best friends are also having crises of their own.
Phil Berquist (Daniel Stern) is stuck managing his father-in-law’s grocery store, while trapped in a sexless marriage with his overbearing wife, Arlene.
Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby) is a successful businessman and playboy, having recently married an underwear model, but is struggling with the idea of monogamous marriage and the pressure to have kids. Ed often invites his two best friends on his various adventures, which are not always appreciated by Mitch, as one year earlier he suffered a mortifying injury during a holiday in Pamplona, Spain during the running of the bulls.
At Mitch’s birthday party, Phil and Ed present their joint gift: a two-week Southwestern cattle drive for all three men. Mitch initially refuses, having promised to visit his wife Barbara’s (Patricia Wettig) parents in Florida. However, they are also visited by a young check-out girl from Phil’s grocery store and inadvertently reveals an affair she has recently had with him. Heartbroken, Arlene informs her father and files for divorce, and Phil loses his job. After Barbara insists he go, Mitch and friends travel to New Mexico, where they meet ranch owner Clay Stone (Noble Willingham) and several other participants of the cattle drive.
As they “learn the ropes” of moving a herd, the trio enter a tense encounter with the ranch’s two professional cowboys, Jeff and T.R. (Kyle Secor and Dean Hallo), when they drunkenly proposition another participant, Bonnie Rayburn (Helen Slater). The standoff is abruptly halted when Curly Washburn (Jack Palance), the seasoned, tough-as-nails trail boss, lassos Jeff into a chokehold, and chastises both for being intoxicated on the job. Bonnie develops a crush on Mitch after this, but Mitch does not reciprocate.
Curly, Jeff, T.R., and the ranch’s guests begin the long drive to Colorado. Curly overhears Mitch insult him and later humiliates Mitch in retaliation. After a destructive stampede is Mitch’s fault, as punishment Curly chooses a fearful Mitch to ride with him in the canyons to find some stray cows. They spend the night alone and slowly begin to bond. Mitch discovers that despite Curly’s tough exterior, he is a very wise man. Curly advises him how to face his problems: by concentrating on the “one thing” that is most important in his life.
The next morning, Curly and Mitch are forced to deliver a pregnant cow’s calf, which Mitch names “Norman”. After Curly is forced to euthanize its ailing mother by delivering a coup de grace, Mitch informally adopts the newborn.
The drive runs into trouble when Curly unexpectedly suffers a fatal heart attack. As they proceed without him, Cookie the cook (Tracey Walter) gets drunk and breaks both his legs, requiring him to be taken to a hospital. Without Curly’s presence, Jeff and T.R. become freely intoxicated, goading Mitch into challenging them. Ed intervenes and Phil soon disarms both, furiously ordering them to go to bed.
Fearing reprisals from Clay Stone, Jeff and T.R. abandon the group in the wilderness, leaving them with no trail boss, food or map. The remaining participants decide to abandon the herd and seek civilization, except for Ed and Phil, who insist on driving the herd to Colorado despite Mitch’s pleas. The others ride on ahead, but Mitch unexpectedly returns (wearing Curly’s black hat) to rejoin his fellow “city slickers” and finish the drive.
The final test of the drive involves crossing a dangerous river. Despite a violent storm, the men successfully drive most of the herd across the river, except for Norman, who is caught up in the river’s rapid current. Mitch impulsively chases after him, successfully lassoing the calf, but in turn gets caught in the rapids; seeing this, Phil and Ed race down the bank themselves and, working together, are able to save Mitch and Norman.
As the men collapse on the river bank, they all have a long laugh, having at last overcome their respective crises. From there the three easily lead the herd back to the Colorado ranch, where they are warmly received by the other participants. Clay Stone, overwhelmed, rewards the entire group, and the trio in particular, for overcoming such adversity by fully refunding their fees. To their dismay, however, Stone has decided to sell the cows to a meat company for a fine price.
Mitch returns to New York a happier man, having realized that his “one thing” is his family. Ed returns home to tell his newlywed wife he is fine with having children, and Phil starts a new relationship with Bonnie. Mitch has spared Norman from the slaughter by purchasing him and bringing the calf home as a pet, at least until he can find a “nice petting zoo”.
Being a city boy myself, I can’t tell you what it feels like to get all rugged and such while driving cattle cross-country, but apparently one can learn what this feels like in certain ranches that exist. An adventure like this is what City Slickers is about, but I’m sure the big question on your mind is whether or not it is worth seeing, right?
Well, here’s what I liked.
Laughter is the best medicine. When this flick started, I was feeling a bit nauseous…or maybe it was hunger. It is hard to tell exactly which one it was. Either way, there are quite a few moments in here that had me cracking up, but what can you expect with the likes of Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern headlining the cast, right?
Homage to the good ol’ west. It is obvious that these guys are fans of the old west. Can you blame them? The surprise, though, is how this film seems to share a vague similarity to The Cowboys,what with the grizzled old trail boss who is killed before they reached their goal. In an effort to honor his memory, they bury him and vow to finish the drive. Sound familiar?
Great cast. The mixture of these great comic actors makes for a really great time watching them, even if they don’t seem to have the best chemistry amongst them. I really did enjoy the constant ribbing they would give each other. It made it feel like they truly were lifelong friends.
What didn’t I like?
Unfinished. A few plot lines were left unfinished, and I wasn’t really a fan of just leaving things open like. I am willing to forgive, since there is a sequel, but I doubt that it even mentions what happened to the baby that apparently ruined a marriage. The children and their love/hate relationship with their father was also something that could have been tied up a little better.
Killing off a good character without a fight. Jack Palance’s Curly is a great manly man character. I loved his performance, but not the way he is killed off. A man like that should go out in battle, not quietly in the night. I will admit, though, that this may actually have been better, emotionally, but it just seemed to be a cop out and he deserved better.
I really did like City Slickers. The high praise this film has received is not without merit. This isn’t a perfect flick, but it one of those that really makes you laugh and enjoy it, which is always a plus, right? I highly recommend this to any and everyone!
4 out of 5 stars