|Directed by||Michael Ritchie|
|Written by||Michael Leeson|
Jonathan Reynolds (uncredited)
|Produced by||William Sackheim|
|Edited by||Richard A. Harris|
|Music by||Paul Chihara|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$14 million|
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (September 2020)
The story focuses on two beleaguered New Yorkers (New York City and environs) who appear fated to meet and profoundly affect each other's lives, becoming friends through adversity.
Donald Quinelle (Robin Williams) is a stereotypical young urban professional who has risen to upper management in a nondescript company, when he is suddenly fired from his job due to a surprise corporate "reorganization". Sonny Paluso (Walter Matthau) is a Korean war veteran who owns a gas station which is accidentally blown up by the unmindful actions of both Donald and Sonny acting apart and unaware of each other. The two men's paths cross again while at the unemployment office, and later they finally meet and first speak to each other while seated side-by-side at the counter of a local diner, as each considers his sudden loss of employment. Their tense exchange is suddenly interrupted when a masked gunman attempts to rob the diner. While struggling to disarm the gunman, Donald is shot, but Sonny unmasks the robber and gets a good look at the criminal before he flees the scene. Donald survives, and later at the hospital, while recuperating from his gunshot wound, Donald is visited by Sonny, who is introduced to Donald's fiancée, Doreen (Annie McEnroe), as she helps Donald operate the TV. Donald then sees himself on the local news coverage of the attempted armed robbery, when a commentator insults Donald's heroism as reckless foolishness. After Donald recovers from his wound, he demands to read his own on-air rebuttal to the opinion of the TV news commentator, and inadvertently reveals Sonny's identity, while the unmasked robber, Jack Locke (Jerry Reed), watches the broadcast at home. Sonny and his teenage daughter Candace (Kristen Vigard) also happen to see Donald's on-air commentary, which causes Sonny to leave many insults on Donald's answering machine. That night, Jack silently breaks into Sonny's house in order to kill Sonny so that he can't identify Jack to the police as the robber of the diner. As fate would have it, Donald drops in to apologize to Sonny about mentioning him on TV, and ends up saving Sonny and Candace while capturing Jack and obtaining his pistol. Sonny and Donald take Jack at gunpoint to the police station to turn him in as the robber of the diner, and possibly as a criminal of notorious fame due to Jack's bragging that he is a professional hit-man who has only resorted to armed robbery due to the current economic recession.
Donald's outlook on life is greatly changed due to these recent events. While Sonny drives himself and Donald home from the police station after Jack is booked into custody, Donald tells Sonny that having held Jack at gun point was exhilarating. Donald then notices they are driving past a firearms and outfitters superstore (which is ludicrous for New York City). Donald insists that they stop and browse at the firearms retailer. Afterward, Donald returns home with his purchases and inadvertently awakens his fiancée, Doreen. Unsuccessful at hiding his new weaponry, Donald proudly shows them to Doreen, hoping that she will admire him as a "real man", but she is appalled. Donald explains that he wants the two of them to attend a survivalist training camp in Vermont, to learn how to defend themselves and take control of their destiny. She decides they must part ways.
Donald completely buys into the survivalist mentality and moves permanently to his remote Vermont survival cabin. He and the other survivalist trainees at the training camp are led by the instructor and camp owner, Wes (James Wainwright). The trainees are convinced by Wes to prepare for the imminent collapse of society. Meanwhile, back in New York City, Jack makes bail for the robbery and once again finds Sonny to eliminate him and Donald from implicating Jack to the police for Jack's more infamous crimes as a hit-man. A fearful Sonny reasons with Jack and assures him that Sonny and Donald will forget all about Jack if he agrees to leave them alone. Jack is willing to agree to the arrangement, if Donald also agrees. Unable to contact Donald by phone, Sonny and Candice travel to Donald's survival retreat to inform Donald of the deal. Donald, however, is so confident of his new abilities to face danger that he taunts Jack by telephone and challenges him into coming up to the camp for a final "mano-a-mano" showdown. Sonny is forced to take his own actions to force Donald to agree to the arrangement with Jack, in order to save the lives of everyone involved.
Donald, transformed by his new training, escapes from Sonny and Candace, and goes out to meet Jack in armed combat. Wes soon learns that an actual professional killer is due to arrive at his training camp, and enlists all of his trainees to prepare to test their mettle in combat. Donald and Jack run into each other and have a prolonged gun battle, but Donald is forced to return to his cabin for more ammunition. Wes and his men give pursuit to Jack, all wanting to get a shot at the intruder. Retreating to Donald's cabin for safety from Wes' militia, Jack finds Donald, Sonny, and Candace. As Wes and his men surround the cabin, a siege begins, but all inside the cabin cooperate to survive against the trigger-happy trainees outside. Sonny, Candace, Jack, and Donald cleverly fool Wes and his men, and manage to escape in Sonny's car. The bloodthirsty militia gives chase, but their bloodquest is soon forgotten once Wes is inadvertently exposed as a rich businessman whose training camp operation is a sham while he has actually defrauded his trainees by "selling" them their cabins on land leased from a tribe of Native Americans. The four New Yorkers head back to the city. Donald demands to get out of the car and has an emotional breakdown, realizing how much he has lost. Sonny tries to comfort him and by his kindness brings Donald back to a sense of normality. The two walk back to the car as friends.
- Walter Matthau as Sonny Paluso
- Robin Williams as Donald Quinelle
- Jerry Reed as Jack Locke
- Kristen Vigard as Candace Paluso
- James Wainwright as Wes Huntley
- Skipp Lynch as Wiley
- Annie McEnroe as Doreen
- John Goodman as Commando
- Marian Hailey as Mrs. Locke
- Joseph Carberry as Detective Matt Burke
- Meg Mundy as Mace Lover
- Marilyn Cooper as Waitress
The film did not garner many positive reviews, scoring only a 9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 11 reviews. Many felt that Robin Williams and Walter Matthau's style of humor did not mesh well together. An exception to the negative critical tide was the review that Pauline Kael gave the film in The New Yorker:
- The banner line on the ad says ' Once they declare war on each other, watch out. You could die laughing.' The Survivors isn't about two men declaring war on each other; it's about two New Yorkers without anything in common who become friends. The advertisers probably didn't know what to do with it because it's a comedy for grownups. There's a lot of unconventional humour in the writing by Michael Leeson. Robin Williams' work transcends the film's flaws. He acts with an emotional purity that I can't pretend to understand. A lot of the comedy comes from his being a grownup with this ranting little kid inside him. Walter Matthau gives a quiet, old pro's performance.