A blasé road comedy with less than five funny moments in total but plenty of tired gay jokes to pass around, "Wild Hogs" would be right at home in 1984. Back then, the film might have starred Burt Reynolds, Steve Guttenburg, Danny Glover and Ted Danson, and would have surely been just as bad as it is in 2007. Lightweight to the point of airlessness and about as deep as a street peddler's bank account, the movie has compiled a solid cast that should have rethought their commitment before signing the dotted line. Granted, John Travolta (2004's "Ladder 49
"), Martin Lawrence (2006's "Big Momma's House 2
") and Tim Allen (2006's "The Shaggy Dog
") aren't exactly discriminating with their recent movie roles, but the very fact that they have collectively joined forces with distinguished performers such as William H. Macy (2006's "Bobby
"), Marisa Tomei (2004's "Alfie
") and Ray Liotta (2003's "Identity
") to make a pile of slop is enough to leave anyone scratching their head.
The plot fulfills the mainstream studio requirement of being thin, disposable and easy to follow, a mere coat rack for which to hang woeful slapstick gags involving the pitfalls of motorcycle riding. Four middle-aged buddies, each experiencing their own sort of midlife crisiswealthy Woody (John Travolta) loses his job, home and supermodel wife; dentist Doug (Tim Allen) feels a disconnect with his pre-teen son; aspiring self-help writer Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is henpecked by his wife and underappreciated by the whole family; and computer programmer Dudley (William H. Macy) is too clumsy and nervous to get close to the opposite sexdecide to throw caution to the wind and set out on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Would-be hilarity ensues, supposedly wacky hijinks are had by all, and the four of them get into hot water with hell-raising chopper gang Del Fuego, led by the ruthless Jack (Ray Liotta).
"Wild Hogs" was directed by Walt Becker (2002's "National Lampoon's Van Wilder
") and written by Brad Copeland (TV's "My Name Is Earl"), an imperfect but competent pair who turn out to be as insincere about their gooey soul-searching interludes as they are positively giddy about introducing a new homophobic or gay stereotype roughly every five minutes. From Woody being disgusted by Dudley's closeness when he rides on the back of his bike, to a gay-officer-turned-predator who throws himself at the guys by stripping down and stalking them, to a family who are terrified to find the men bathing commando in a secluded spring, few stones are left unturned as the film embraces a prejudicial way of thinking that would have seemed outdated twenty years ago. The majority of the remaining unfunny humor is of the crash-into-a-pole and get-hit-by-insect-guts-while-driving varieties.
The characters are one-dimensional to a fault, including the quartet of lead protagonists. Their conflictsi.e. relating to children, getting the courage to talk to a woman, standing up for what you believe inare in a way universal, but are insultingly spelled out for the viewer, underlined by an intrusive music score, and then solved with the ease of a thirty-minute family sitcom. Of them, Tim Allen is forgettable, Martin Lawrence blends with the background, John Travolta overacts with his hands and scrunches his face a lot, and a sweet-natured William H. Macy somehow retains his dignity amongst them. As lead bad guy Jack, Ray Liotta clearly enjoys his sniveling stock character, and as Dudley's love interest, diner owner Maggie, the Oscar-winning Marisa Tomei's mere appearance in such a vaguely conceived role is downright tragic to behold. Tomei makes the most of it, but she is deserving of so much more than this.
With a classic rock-heavy soundtrack and a relatively swift pace, "Wild Hogs" isn't the inconceivable chore it could have been. Instead, it is simply mediocreflat as a comedy, ham-fisted as a drama, and trite pablum as a male-bonding pic. In regards to this last comment, the principal players share so little detectable chemistry as best friends that it is almost as if they were all filmed separately and then pasted together in the editing room. There is no history between them, nor any reasons given for how or why they are pals, and director Walt Becker doesn't appear to even make an attempt to build up their relationship. Viewers out for a theater excursion where a working brain is unnecessary and five trips to the bathroom is a common habit might like, or at least tolerate, what they see in "Wild Hogs." Everyone else would be wise to stay far, far away. The film opens on a world of comic possibilities, and closes in a wave of pure nothingness.