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  Survivors, The I Will Get By
Year: 1983
Director: Michael Ritchie
Stars: Walter Matthau, Robin Williams, Jerry Reed, James Wainwright, Kristen Vigard, Annie McEnroe, Anne Pitoniak, Bernard Barrow, Marian Hailey, Joseph Carberry, Skipp Lynch, Marilyn Cooper, Meg Mundy, Yudie Bank, Michael P. Moran, John Goodman
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Donald Quinelle (Robin Williams) thought it was just another day at the office when he arrived this morning, but then his secretary told him the boss wanted to see him in the boardroom. He wondered why, but didn't expect to see not his boss but a parrot which tells him in no uncertain terms that he has been fired. He wanders back dazedly to his office and his secretary hands over his last paycheque and pulls a gun on Donald to stop his protests, so he reluctantly leaves. Pondering his next move, he stops to fill up his car at the gas station of Sonny Paluso (Walter Matthau), who is also losing his job today - and the premises when they explode.

That was both men's fault, as Donald accidentally poured fuel onto the ground and Sonny's discarded cigarette ignited it, but they spend the rest of the movie entirely unaware of the truth behind the incident as other events overtake them. The Survivors was what would be called once upon a time a scattershot satire as its targets were wide-ranging and indeed undisciplined, the script by Michael Leeson (who would co-create The Cosby Show the following year) was always changing its mind about its main concerns. This did make for a film which had a restless quality, and that can work in a comedy's favour if the dialogue is strong enough, yet in this case it was oddly mild.

So you had a supposedly dynamite combination of Matthau and Williams, together at last (and at only) but their lines though sprinkled with salty language didn't quite hit the mark as often as you might have expected, even if you could hear a little of Williams' trademark improvisations every so often. This wasn't a bad movie by any means, but the fact that it hasn't been inducted into any kind of comic hall of fame is some indication of the slight feeling of letdown this engendered in its audience - well, most of its audience as The Survivors does have a small but loyal cult for whom the unfortunate circumstances that Sonny and Donald find themselves in strike a chord.

What brings them together, bearing in mind they're never exactly on the same wavelength for the duration of the story, is when they are in a diner reflecting individually on their bad luck when a balaclava'd hoodlum bursts through the door and demands money and that everyone there should take off their clothes. This crook is talking in an exaggerated idea of black slang, which is why its meant to be a surprise when his mask is whipped off in a scuffle and he is revealed to be a white man, not any old white man by Burt Reynolds' old pal Jerry Reed. Not really him, but the hitman fallen on hard times character he's essaying, one Jack Locke who flees empty handed, leaving Sonny and Donald lauded as heroes for standing up to the man, though the latter gets a bullet in his shoulder for his trouble.

So we've had jabs at the Reaganomics of the work marketplace, the perceived rising crime rate, then the media when an opinion piece on the news accuses our protagonists of being foolish in their actions, and then the attraction to America for guns as Donald arms himself in reaction to hearing Jack is out to get him, and finally the survivalist militia movement which he joins in the second half of the movie. There's more to it as well, as Sonny has to deal with his teenage daughter (singer Kristen Vigard) who he returns home in one amusing scene to realise she's relaxing in front of a hardcore porn movie in the living room for example, all part of the character comedy director Michael Ritchie was so enamoured of, but there was something ever so slightly unconvincing about the way the plot escalated which tended to undercut his best efforts. There were some good laughs, mainly because you felt sympathetic towards the two hapless lead characters, yet if you thought about it, it didn't make much sense - like, how did Jack get away so easily, and why pursue them at all? Music by Paul Chihara.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Ritchie  (1938 - 2001)

American director, from television, whose films of the 1970s showed an interesting, sardonic take on America. After sour skiing drama Downhill Racer, he had an unhappy experience on the bizarre Prime Cut before a run of acclaimed movies: political satire The Candidate, the excellent Smile, coarse comedy The Bad News Bears, and another sporting comedy Semi-Tough.

Moving into the 1980s, Ritchie lost his edge with such lukewarm efforts as The Island, underwhelming comedy The Survivors, the not bad Fletch and its very bad sequel, Eddie Murphy vehicle The Golden Child and The Couch Trip, but he made a brief return to form in the early 1990s with boxing comedy Diggstown.

 
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