CITY SLICKERS'' is one of those rare cinematic happenings: a movie that deftly combines laughs with sentiment and an occasionally serious thought. The sentiment and the seriousness never intrude on the laughs.
"City Slickers" is exceptionally funny. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell (''Parenthood''), this film is more than simply amusing. Much of the time, it is uproarious.
Billy Crystal stars, along with Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby. Crystal is an ad salesman for a radio station, Stern is the manager of a grocery store that belongs to his father-in-law, and Kirby is the owner of a sporting-goods store.
Friends from childhood, the three men from New Jersey share their vacations. One year, it was the bulls in Pamplona. This year, it is a dude ranch where the three city men will play cowboys as they take part in a cattle drive. It's all there in the brochure, says Ed (Kirby), and the other two, who are having problems at home, take to the suggestion. It sounds good. It will be good to get away for a while.
Once there, they find themselves facing ornery ranch hands, a gnarled trail boss, played by Jack Palance, lightning, rain, an alcoholic wagon master and 200 head of cattle they will herd from New Mexico to Colorado.
There are others on the trip. There are father and son dentists, brothers who manufacture ice cream, and a young woman (Helen Slater) looking for something, although she's not sure what it is.
The boys from New Jersey talk coarse. There are those who will say the men are vulgar, but the vulgarity is never without wit. Feminists, however, may complain. They may not like all they hear, despite the fact that Crystal has said that the film has tested best with women over 25.
Palance is excellent as the trail boss who snarls but in the end comes to like his charges. Give the writers this much credit: They could have had one of the lead characters say that the trail boss looks exactly like the villain in ''Shane,'' but they don't.
There's enough material here to keep the film rolling for its 112-minute running time. It would be easy to cite a few gags from the film, but the trailer gives you enough of those. In this case, the trailer was an accurate sampler.
The music is also a plus. Written by Marc Shaiman, it is totally faithful to all the better westerns Hollywood has done. It sounds very right, but then just about everything is right with this film. It opens here today.
''City Slickers'' **** Three New Jersey men who have always vacationed together visit a dude ranch to play cowboys for a few weeks.
CAST: Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Jack Palance, Josh Mostel
DIRECTOR: Ron Underwood
RATING: PG-13 (language, sex)
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
'City Slickers' is a charming vacation