“Every Man A King” by Randy Newman.
Interesting Dated References: Buying guns without having to wait.
Best Line: Said to Robin Williams — “You could snort your breakfast,” Williams, in reply — “I have.”
Social Context: There’s a lot of early 80s themes going on here. Job loss, fear of crime, guns, Reganomics. Overall, though, this movie is a diatribe against guns. And considering the year it was made, this was a pretty new theme at the time. It runs the same lines as Deal of The Century also from 1983, with slightly less comedic results. A lot of films like this were ahead of their time in terms of cultural criticism, but unfortunately they have now aged terribly because of the extremely topical nature of the humor.
Summary: The Survivors finds Williams teaming up successfully with resident curmudgeon Walter Matthau to mildly hilarious and not-all-that-dated results (aside from subject matter).
The film opens with Williams being fired from his job. On his way home he gets gas but is so distraught he pours it all over the ground. Gas station owner Matthau throws a cigarette, gas station blows up. Both go to get unemployment and wind up at the same diner to eat. Then they thwart a robbery, which makes them minor celebrities, and our premise is set. When Williams sees a local reporter badmouthing their hot shot heroics on the news, he goes on the news to do an editorial reply. During this, he repeatedly mentions Matthau’s name, who happens to see the report after he finishes watching porno with his 16-year-old daughter. Our resident villain also sees the report and decides he has to kill the dynamic comedy duo so they don’t identify him to cops. Turns out our villain is Jerry Reed (RIP), country singer and star of High Ballin’. Considering this was only five years after High Ballin’, he looks like shit. Maybe it’s part of his character, but he just doesn’t look well.
So late at night Reed breaks in and tries to kill Matthau, Williams shows up, and comedic hijinks ensue. The interaction between the trio is not forced at all and provides some solid buddy-action humor. Williams and Matthau manage to overpower Reed and take him into the police station. On the way home, Williams decides he wants to check out a gun shop that looks bigger than a goddamn Best Buy. Look who’s behind the counter:
A skinny John Goodman. Williams goes ballistic and buys a shit-ton of weapons and enrolls in a survivalist camp. While he does that, Matthau looks for a new job. Queue montage. Reed shows up at the Matthau’s new job (cab driver) and threatens him, so Matthau and his daughter flee to the survivalist camp Williams is at.
The third act of the film takes place entirely at the survivalist camp. Turns out, Williams is full-blown survivalist and determined to have his revenge on Reed. It just so happens Reed knows where Matthau and Williams are and is on his way up. The writing in the movie actually gets even better at this point with Williams and Matthau delivering a lot of good one-liners. When Reed finally arrives, he and Williams have a shoot out followed by a standoff with the survivalist group. Then it starts to get really convoluted and Williams flips his lid and stages a mock killing of Reed so they can escape from the survivalist group. The movie ends with another diatribe about capitalism and greed.
Somehow The Survivors succeeds. I don’t even like Robin Williams that much and I found this movie enjoyable. For every failed joke there’s at least a much funnier one to match it. You probably won’t enjoy it because you are a bitter jaded hipster asshole who only likes things you find ironic. I should also note that along with Semi Tough this is the second Michael Ritchie comedy-mess I’ve reviewed. Before getting bogged down in these comedies, Ritchie was responsible for two great, pessimistic, fly-on-the-wall 70s movies: Downhill Racer and The Candidate. Both are worth checking out.
Poster and Box Art: This poster blows and makes the movie look like a shitty buddy comedy. Granted, it is a shitty buddy comedy, but it’s better than the box art makes it look.
Availability: DVD at Amazon.