“CITY SLICKERS”— Middle-Aged men at a Working Dude Ranch


Middle-Aged men at a Working Dude Ranch

Amos Lassen

Billy Crystal plays Mitch, a 40-year-old radio ad salesman who lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children. He feels trapped in a humdrum existence and is so unenthusiastic about his job that he embarrasses his nine-year-old son by giving a speech against it during career week at the boy’s school. He joins his best friends, Ed (Bruno Kirb), a sporting good storeowner, and Phil (Daniel Stern), a grocer, for a two-week vacation on a working dude ranch. After learning about riding and roping, they head out into the wilderness on a cattle drive led by Curly (Jack Palance).

Crystal gives a wonderful comic performance as a smart aleck who gets in touch with the nurturing side of himself he’s kept hidden. The three guys let down their hair with each other and for the first time experience male camaraderie that goes beyond surface pranks. Director Ron Underwood gives us one of the funniest films about middle age. This is the proverbial comedy with the heart of truth, the tear in the eye along with the belly laugh. It’s funny, and it adds up to something. The dude ranch possesses a certain mythic quality that is reinforced by the theme from “The Magnificent Seven” which plays under the Western action, sometimes ironically and sometimes heroically.

The city slickers are choosing, half ironically, to follow in the footsteps of the great movie cattle rides of the past. Trail boss, Curly (Jack Palance), seems like a survivor from an earlier time. The plot unfolds along fairly predictable lines. The three city dudes meet up with their fellow urban cowboys, including two black Baltimore dentists and a good-looking blond who has been abandoned by her boyfriend. They ride out one morning at dawn, saddle-sore but plucky, and along the way there are showdowns with macho professional cowboys, stubborn cattle, and nature.

They share moments of insight, of secrets sincerely shared, of the kind of philosophical speculation that’s encouraged by life on the range. There is also the kind of crazy heroism that can be indulged in only by guys who don’t understand the real dangers they’re in. And there are dreamy nights around the campfire when they stand back and look at their lives, their marriages, and the meaning of it all.

“City Slickers” deals with everyday issues of living in an unforced way that doesn’t get in the way of the humor, and yet sets the movie up for a genuine emotional payoff at the end. And the male bonding among Crystal, Stern and Kirby is unforced and convincing.

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