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THE SURVIVORS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Walter Matthau, Robin Williams, Jerry Reed
Director: Michael Ritchie
Audio: Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Theatrical Trailers
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: April 23, 2002

“So you see, I’m not out there committing adultery, I’m out there committing murder.”

“Oh, thank God!”

Film **

Survivalists are very cautious people who have secret hideaways somewhere in the woods, which they’ve stocked with food, weapons, ammunition, and survival gear. In case of a nuclear attack, they alert each other by CB radio and light out for the trees. The Survivors, which attempts to have fun with their prudence, is an aimless, confusing comedy that never comes to grip with its material.

The film is pretty much a mess. One of the reasons it’s a mess is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a human comedy, or a slapstick, satirical comedy. The first approach would have involved creating plausible characters and plugging them into a comic situation. The second approach allows anything in any way possible. The Survivors goes for both approaches simultaneously, which is confusing. For example, in a very funny opening scene, Williams is fired from his job by, of all things, a trained parrot, but that scene is soon followed by one of social satire set in an unemployment office. Even within scenes, the styles of the actors suggest they think they’re in different movies. Walter Matthau manfully acts as if he’s in a plausible movie, while Robin Williams mugs, improvises, and randomly alters his accent, acting as if the purpose was solely for slapstick.

The story involves two newly unemployed men. Williams’ character has been fired by the parrot and Matthau’s gas station has blown up. After they get discouraged by the lines at the unemployment office, they happen to go to the same diner, which is stuck up by a fierce criminal (Jerry Reed). They snatch off his ski mask and see him, and so Reed believes he has to kill these two witnesses. What happens next is very long and involved. Williams signs up for a wilderness survival training course. He hopes to become tough enough to protect himself. The two both find themselves at the same isolated survivalist area. The head survivalist is a reactionary paramilitary nut who believes American society is doomed to collapses, and so on.

This material is the stuff of promising satire, but the movie’s director, Michael Ritchie, goes nowhere with it. His parts don’t seem to fit together. One moment we’ll be getting a heartfelt talk, and the next moment there’s a wilderness shootout right out of The Road Runner. The story gets so confused that the movie can’t even account for why its characters happen to be in the same place at the same time. At one point, a scene occurs where Williams actually calls Reed and tells him where he can be found. Yep, uh-huh.

The Survivors wouldn’t be such a disappointment if it didn’t employ such talented people, and if it weren’t directed by Michael Ritchie, whose gift for satirizing American situations has given us good films such as The Bad News Bears, The Candidate, and the underrated Diggstown. This time he seems so fast off the starting line, he left the screenplay behind.

Video ***1/2

Columbia Tri Star has always been iffy in the transfers of some of their old titles, but the transfer on The Survivors is a major exception. Colors appear as bright as can be, and the picture quality is incredibly sharp as can be. About 80% of the movie takes place in the snowy outdoors, all of which turn up exceptionally nicely. An all around impressive looking disc, given the age of the movie.

Audio **1/2

Columbia Tri Star has issued a good enough 2.0 surround sound track, which doesn’t really show much surround sound quality, but does make the most of what it can with the presentation. Dialogue comes through especially clear, and there are a few action scenes that play off quite nicely. This is one presentation that could’ve easily been worsened, but CTS gave it just the right touch.

Features *

Only a trailer for this and other Columbia Tri Star titles, including The Big Hit.

Summary:

The Survivors is an absolute misfire that had some major potential, if it only decided what kind of movie it wanted to be. It has the right elements for two kinds of comedies, but the blending of them adds up to a confusing movie.