In "City Slickers," Billy Crystal's Mitch Robbins was instructed by his wife to join a cattle drive and "go and find your smile." Mitch did more than that: He bonded with everything in sight and delivered a calf.
So you have to wonder--what could "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold" do to top that earlier film's huggy buddy-buddy bathos? Will Mitch deliver twins this time? Will the film go sci-fi and have Jack Palance's Curly return from the dead to be delivered of a mewling infant?
Nothing so baroque, alas. With several years to ponder a way to honorably recycle "City Slickers," the filmmakers responsible for the sequel--director Paul Weiland and scripters Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel--have come up with a buried-treasure plot that would barely pass muster as an old Republic Pictures Western. The only things missing are the singing cowboys.
Mitch, having located his smile, sets out to locate a cache of hidden gold outlined in an old treasure map he accidentally uncovers in the brim of Curly's hat. (He's been keeping the hat as a keepsake of his cattle-driver chum; he's also held onto the calf he delivered, now a full-grown steer.) Accompanying Mitch into the valleys and buttes are his depresso buddy Phil (Daniel Stern), a repeat offender from the first film, and his loafing black-sheep-of-the-family brother Glen (Jon Lovitz), who, at the drop of a Stetson, mimes scenes from "Godfather II." (Now there was a sequel.) Curly, inconveniently dead, is resurrected--sort of--in the person of his twin brother Duke (Palance), who is also on the gold trail.
The real gold chasers are the filmmakers, who keep pilfering moments from the first film to garland the sequel in order to repeat their success. There's something a bit unseemly about the way "City Slickers II" keeps fluffing our memories of "City Slickers," as if that film was some great classic worth recapping. It was far less than a classic--a sitcom on the range with a heavy helping of midlife-crisis sensitivity jags. It turns out that all that bonding/birthing stuff, more than the jokes, was probably what made the film a smash. It played out the audience's desire to chuck their boring jobs and get up on a horse and yell, " Yee-Ha ."
"City Slickers II" has its own variation on that film's squishiness. Mitch and his brother rediscover their love for each other, although Crystal in his "sincere" mode is enough to spook the cattle, and Lovitz on the level resembles nothing so much as his "Saturday Night Live" character The Liar. As if this weren't enough, Mitch and Phil rediscover their friendship, which is put to the test when Mitch is required to suck rattlesnake venom from Phil's posterior butte.
Most of the comedy is on this level, which makes you long--well, almost--for a few more midlife mouthings from the first film. With most of the film taken up with these city dudes, "City Slickers II" has a skimpy, arid feeling, despite the Utah vistas. Only Palance returns with a flourish. He's as gnarled and critter-like as ever, and he gives his dumbest lines an orotund looniness that makes them hang in the air. Palance would be great playing Long John Silver in a newfangled "Treasure Island." He's a tall tale in motion.
What "City Slickers II" is really all about is movie stars play-acting cowboys. It's a boy's fantasy we're asked not so much to applaud as anoint. The first film roused a few laughs by showing how inept its city boys were on the range, but narcissism seems to have kicked in for the sequel. Crystal, who also produced the film, likes the way he looks on a horse. He likes the way he gazes steely-eyed at the horizon. He can be a highly inventive comic actor but, as long as he's being bathetic and legendary, is it OK if we don't come out to play?
* MPAA rating: PG-13 for a comic sex scene and off-color humor. Times guidelines: It includes a hissing rattlesnake, a character being shot in the chest and a stampede.
'City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold'
Billy Crystal: Mitch Robbins
Daniel Stern: Phil Berquist
Jon Lovitz: Glen Robbins
Jack Palance: Duke/Curly Washburn
A Castle Rock Entertainment and Columbia Pictures presentation of a Face Production. Director Paul Weiland. Producer Billy Crystal. Executive producer Peter Schindler. Screenplay by Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle. Editor William Anderson. Costumes Llandys Williams. Music Marc Shaiman. Production design Stephen J. Lineweaver. Set decorator Clay A. Griffith. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.