Managing to ruin or ignore a great deal of what made City Slickers a great movie, City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold comes along and, despite still being somewhat funny, is a complete shell of its predecessor. It’s often that way when money is involved, isn’t it? And I can see no reason other than money for this film to have been made. Calling it a cash-in is about the most accurate description that you can give it.
Set a year after the first film, Mitch (Billy Crystal) is now happy. He learned things in City Slickers and is now perfectly content in his life. His marriage is great, he’s now the manager of the radio station where he is employed, and everything seems to be going great. On his birthday, he finds a treasure map hidden in the hat that used to belong to Curly (Jack Palance, who won an Oscar for the role), the trail boss in the first movie. Along with his best friend, Phil (Daniel Stern), and his good-for-nothing brother, Glen (Jon Lovitz), Mitch heads back out in an attempt to find this gold, which he assumes comes from the robbery of a train back in 1908. Do the math: $1,000,000 in gold back then would be worth a great deal more in 1994.
Conveniently, Mitch and Phil were set out to go to Las Vegas on a convention, anyway, so they only have a short trip away from there in order to get to the gold. Why does Mitch have to lie to his wife about this? Why, really, if his life is going so well, does he have to search for this gold, jeopardizing his career in the process? Questions that go unanswered and don’t matter, as far as the film is concerned.
One of the challenges that the filmmakers had to overcome when writing City Slickers II was to figure out how to bring Jack Palance back into the picture. Palance stole every scene he had in City Slickers, and the film wouldn’t be the same without him. You can’t revive people in this universe, so they created a twin brother, Duke, to join the trio on their journey for the gold. Yes, it’s stupid, but you forget about that when you see Palance and are thankful that he’s in the film at all.
These characters are no longer the most important part of the film. This time, it’s about the adventure and about the gold. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. In City Slickers, the protagonists weren’t action heroes or cowboys. Here, they’re both. As a result of this, and of some key scenes, City Slickers II feels like a bad version of an Indiana Jones film. These people are not the ones we previously knew. They are caricatures who no longer matter.
Even their dialogue is dull and unimportant. Nothing is learned or thought about during the conversations that happen between the characters. No insight is gained into the human condition, no material is shown for your brain to ponder — it’s filler and mimicry. Director Paul Weiland wasn’t part of the first film, and while he probably saw it and liked it, he clearly didn’t understand what made it work. Imitating a standup comedian doesn’t automatically make you funny, just like copying a good movie doesn’t necessarily mean yours will be worthwhile.
The worst thing about City Slickers II is that it isn’t particularly funny. Admittedly, the first film wasn’t chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments, but it was good for a consistent chuckle and its added depth more than made up for that. This one, lacking anything more than the most basic idea of why City Slickers was successful, is not as funny and it’s far more noticeable that this is the case. You were thinking, feeling, and laughing before, now you’re just sitting there feeling bored.
This comes as a surprise to me, especially considering Weiland was one of the minds behind the hilarious Blackadder series. But even with that sense of humor, teamed up with Crystal and Lovitz who are natural comedians, the film struggles to entice laughter. It makes me wonder how hard the studio pushed the film forward, doing so even without a solid script in place. It all feels forced and as if it’s happening just to make back some money. When that particular motivation comes through in the finished product, something has gone very wrong.
One of the highlights of the original film was watching Jack Palance work. It becomes the sole highlight in City Slickers II. Palance, playing the same character type that he did last time around, is still a delight. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the three buddies, played by Crystal, Stern and Lovitz. Perhaps it’s just that they have nothing important to talk about, but they seemed to just be going through the motions, barely even noticing that they’re supposed to be talking to other people. There’s a lack of chemistry and dedication to their roles, is what I’m saying.
City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold is a thin imitation of the original film, which is great and you should watch again instead of seeing this one. There are some laughs to be had, but they’re few and far between, and the lack of humor isn’t covered up by any additional depth. Even the natural comedic talents of the director, Paul Weiland, and two of the stars, Crystal and Lovitz, couldn’t save this sorry excuse of a movie.