Judge Bill Gibron usually enjoys the freedom of the open road, but he wishes this horrible so-called comedy about middle-aged motorcyclists on a cross-country trek would get lost along the way and never found.
Our review of Wild Hogs (Blu-Ray), published August 14th, 2007, is also available.
Men Behaving Sadly
The mid-life crisis, especially in the male, is never pretty. There is nothing more inherently repugnant than a doughy, balding carcass of self-delusion wishing for youth and doing everything within its paltry power to regain it. You know the type: elephantine ass encased in too-tight biker shorts, flabby arms extended from a misguided muscle shirt, pattern of obvious hair loss interrupted by the tell-tale signs of a comb-over, hair plugs, or a flagrant toupee. They are usually standing beside a sports car, clasping an energy drink, and scouting the landscape for possible skirt from behind badly fitting shades. They talk like a Saturday Night Live skit minus the irony, and name-check elements far outside their own cultural purview. Sure, it's a sickening stereotype, but most clichés are carved out of the truth. In the 2007 audience favorite as motion picture atrocity Wild Hogs, a cast of aging actors gets to play pitiable as part of a guys gone gonzo road trip to reclaim their freedom. The results are so ridiculous and routinely dull, that you'd much rather go bar-hopping with your Speedo-sporting 53-year-old uncle than sit through two hours of this tripe.
Facts of the Case
Four life-long pals—dentist Doug (Tim Allen, The Santa Clause), computer programmer Dudley (William H. Macy, Edmund), toilet repairman Bobby (Martin Lawrence, Big Momma's House), and bad businessman Woody (John Travolta, Pulp Fiction)—are fed up with their maturing, button-down life. Each wants to find a way to recapture their past and, for the time being, they manage to do so while sharing a similar hobby: riding motorcycles. One day, Woody discovers that his wife is divorcing him and that he's broke. Without telling his pals the reason, he convinces them to go on a cross-country trip to "rediscover their independence." Shirking wives and their mainstream responsibilities, they get their motors revving and head out on the highway. Eventually they run afoul of a real biker gang named the Del Fuegos, led by the angry, aggressive Jack (Ray Liotta, Narc), The boys do something which makes these bad guys go ballistic. Hunting them down all along the Southwest, the pack tracks the wannabe easy riders to the small town of Madrid. There unmarried geek Dudley hooks up with diner owner Maggie (Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom) while the rest of the Wild Hogs await a showdown with the vendetta-minded chopper heads.
It is obvious to anyone watching this abysmal, pandering film that someone forgot to put the funny in Wild Hogs. Claiming to be a comedy, but sans a single significant laugh, it's like a murder mystery without a suspect, an inspector, or a corpse. It starts off inoffensive and gets even more milquetoast from there. By the time we get to the mandatory standoff with the pissed-off posse of Del Fuegos, this misguided movie has actually forgotten what it wants to be. To say it wastes the talents of John Travolta, William H. Macy, Tim Allen, and Martin Lawrence suggests that these stars were actually involved with this project for something other than a paycheck. But the moment they open their mouths, each one channeling an ineffectual version of the emasculated male, you start to wonder if some manner of typecasting was involved. Big bad John in particular goes from smooth operator to whimpering wuss so quickly that you half believe he was preparing for his role as Edna Turnblad in this summer's merry musical, Hairspray. He's not the only one looking lost. Lawrence in particular appears hemmed in by a stodgy script that never once allows him to embrace his inherent ethnic diversity. Only his shrewish wife is allowed to express her cultural characteristics—and not necessarily in an empowering way.
So much is wrong with this movie that it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, we have a hard time believing in the "bike as freedom" myth, especially when four typically tight-assed Hollywood stars are stomping on the kick stand. Macy specifically is so fish out of water that we can see his gills crusting over. A history is hinted at between these men, with Travolta's Woody constantly referring to Allen's days as a pot-smoking, risk-taking youth. From high school to college, these guys apparently have a long-term thing going. But screenwriter Brad Copeland (who supposedly forged his sense of wit on such cult classic sitcoms as Arrested Development) is not into character backstory. Instead, his ambiguous script seems to be relying on audience recognizability and past box-office performance to create the personalities. Similarly, the narrative can't just give us four guys rediscovering the joys of life and involving themselves in some non-erotic male bonding. Instead, we get a running gag about a horny gay highway patrolman (Ted McGinley should have known better) and a second-act confrontation with a bunch of bikers who provide the flaccid, formulaic actions that will lead to the kind of retrograde redemption these soft suburbanites need to prove their male mantle. It's enough to make you gag on your own testosterone.
But according to hack director Walt Becker (responsible for the equally awful Van Wilder), this is what uncomplicated America finds funny. Get four bloated actors to strip down and skinny dip and then add a family with some curious kids to make the situation even more unpleasant. Have Macy's manchild finally hook up with a woman who doesn't think him a complete and utter nerd (a real performance challenge for Oscar winner Tomei) and turn him into a hero after one night of erasing his status as a 49-year-old virgin. When in doubt, let Travolta mince and wince, making faces that even Arnold Horshack and the baby from Look Who's Talking would find excessive. And let's not forget Allen. Becker believes him to be the voice of reason in this otherwise outlandish effort, so we get several subpar "rah rah" speeches from the man who would be king of the dorks. His confrontations with Travolta are tired and uninspired, and the last-act coming together to battle the Del Fuegos is straight out of studio stock storylines from the last four decades. Not even Ray Liotta, doing a combination of Ray Sinclair and Henry Hill, can bring life to his lax effort. His jerkwad Jack is just a criminal catalyst, a reason for our marquee names to step up and take a stand.
Yet we could really care less what happens to these shallow swine. Since we are never invested in their goal, since their shenanigans frequently make them out to be the poseurs they really are, because we can't understand the basic premise behind their love of motorcycles (there's none of the Zen we've come to expect from the mechanical mysteries), Wild Hogs simply withers and dies. You can tell this movie hoped to drive its comedy via the characters since actual jokes are few and very, very far between. The actors are acceptable enough—no one is intentionally trying to be bland, boring, or bewildering—yet they can only work with the material they are given. In retrospect, this high-concept crapfest feels like the movies made in the '80s, relying solely on the ability to prepackage the product for sale to star-hungry distributors and celeb-headed fans. Under such a theory, we should be ready for the next onslaught of recognizable-name buddy buffoonery. Imagine—Jackie Chan, Chris Rock, Dane Cook, and Robert DeNiro star as mild-mannered carnival owners who decide to get into the XXX film game and become fast track smut peddlers. Get a few cameos from famous figures in the adult industry, a subplot involving the mob (maybe even get Pacino to square off against his Godfather/Heat costar), and a last-act denouement where the uptight Asian becomes the biggest name in sex for sale. Call it Porn Dogs and watch the turnstiles twist. It's no more farfetched than the talent-heavy twaddle passing for entertainment here.
Touchstone treats this otherwise uninspired effort like one of the best pictures of the year, considering the DVD package it puts out. The transfer here is just terrific, a bright and bold 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image that is near flawless in its presentation. Colors are vibrant, details are easily discernible and there are no noticeable glitches in the digital reproduction. This is a fresh from the Cineplex picture. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix does a brilliant job of capturing the cool-as-hell songs selected by Becker for the soundtrack. Standards like "Highway to Hell" and Grand Funk Railroad's "Walk Like a Man" come across crisply and powerfully in the multi-channel choice. As for added content, we get some deleted scenes (mildly interesting), a collection of outtakes (varying from funny to foolish), an alternative ending (can you say, more gay highway patrolman?), and a weird featurette entitled "How to Get Your Wife to Let You Buy a Motorcycle" (a primer on the pros and cons of bike ownership). There's also a standard, self-congratulatory behind-the-scenes making-of (filled with chopper love), and a full-length audio commentary by Becker and Copeland. Both men really adore what they've done here, which either speaks for their sense of self-delusion or their honest belief in the comedy of crappiness. It's a 50/50 proposition.
A surprise hit when it opened the spring of 2007, the reason for Wild Hogs' mind-bending success seems to stem from an anecdote Becker tells at the beginning of this commentary. Having managed to get his first choice—Allen, Travolta, Macy, and Lawrence—for each of the main characters, he called together his stars for an impromptu meeting near the New Mexico locations. After a nice meal, and some good conversation and camaraderie, the men were walking out of the restaurant when a typical middle-aged patron leapt up, and shouted out this statement: "Man, look at this cast—whatever movie you all are making, I wanna SEE IT!" In a "come for the pie, stay for the service" sort of way, this is the sort of movie that promises a pig in a blanket and winds up delivering a Vienna sausage in some moldy white bread. And of course, the most depressing thing is that sequels are being prepared as we speak. The mid-life crisis may one day find a viable cinema source for its old dude level angst, but Wild Hogs is definitely not it. The only things really over the hill about this film are its premise, acting, script, and sense of humor.
Guilty as Lindsay after rehab!
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Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• Audio Commentary with Director Walt Becker and Writer Brad Copeland
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