I firmly believe that if the actors in a movie are having a good time, that sense of fun can potentially come off the screen and infect the audience. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes that’s the best explanation for why a film entertains, even when you know the story is kind of predictable. Wild Hogs, for me, was this kind of movie. It’s more or less a Xerox of City Slickers with motorcycles replacing cattle, yet I have to acknowledge that I enjoyed myself watching it. The enthusiasm (and obvious camaraderie) of the stars elevated the material significantly, turning Wild Hogs into a decent piece of frivolous entertainment.
This is the story of four middle-aged friends going through various life crises. Woody (John Travolta) has just lost his supermodel wife and is about to lose his fortune as well. Doug (Tim Allen) enjoys life with his wife Kelly (Jill Hennessy) and their son, but finds his job as a dentist to be soul-crushing. Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is a hen-pecked husband who has never been able to fulfill any of his career goals. Dudley (William H. Macy) is a computer programmer whose awkwardness around women leaves him perpetually single.
The guys, who have their own “biker gang” called the Wild Hogs, decide that they need to get away from it all and reclaim some of their youthful rebellion, so they decide to take a road trip from Ohio to California. They chuck their cell phones and hop on their bikes with a plan to rough it just like real bikers. The early parts of the trip find them trying to adjust to life without all the little comforts. They also engage in some good old-fashioned male bonding. Eventually, they wind up in a genuine biker bar, where they manage to infuriate Jack (Ray Liotta), the leader of a vicious gang called the Del Fuegos. Jack resents these “posers” pretending to be bikers. A conflict ensues, and Woody ends up accidentally blowing up their bar.
The foursome finds temporary refuge in the tiny mountain town of Madrid, New Mexico. Arriving just in time for the annual Chili Festival, they try to hide from the pursuing Del Fuegos, who are known for occasionally riding into town to terrorize the locals. Even the sheriff (Stephen Tobolowsky) is afraid of them. The primary benefit of the town seems to be that Dudley actually finds female companionship in the form of café owner Maggie (Marisa Tomei). Of course, the Del Fuegos eventually track the Wild Hogs down, and a showdown takes place.
Like I said, the fun of Wild Hogs is all in the casting. Tim Allen has made a lot (too many, in fact) of bad family movies in the last few years. Here, he returns to what he does best: making fun of the masculine image. John Travolta is, of course, an enormous talent and a legend to boot. He usually tries to do something different with each role, and this is something we haven’t seen him do before. Travolta brings all his customary energy and charisma to the role. William H. Macy, meanwhile, usually makes very edgy, dramatic films. He’s never done a mainstream comedy like this before. What’s great is that he takes it just as seriously as he would a David Mamet drama, which makes the Dudley character more humorous than he would be in someone else’s hands. Finally, there’s Martin Lawrence – a very funny guy who often turns up in films that are beneath him. His game is clearly raised by the quality of his co-stars. This is the best he’s been in a long time.
While not one of the Hogs, Ray Liotta clearly lives it up as the bad guy. We’ve seen him play menacing characters many times before; just because this is a comedy doesn’t mean he brings down the intensity. It doubtlessly helps that they hired an actor unafraid to play crazy. Had the role of Jack been played by someone who actively tried to be funny, the threat of the character wouldn’t be nearly as strong, and we never would have enjoyed the inevitable comeuppance he receives at the hands of the Wild Hogs.
Even the smallest of supporting roles are filled by quality actors who seem happy to have been invited the party. It’s fun seeing Jill Hennessy, Marisa Tomei, John C. McGinley (as a randy cop), Tenacious D member Kyle Gass (playing a hilariously bad singer), and the great character actor Stephen Tobolowsky turn up to lend a hand. All of them seem to get the spirit of the film, which is to be silly and give the audience a good time.
The material itself is a mixed bag. Parts of the screenplay by Brad Copeland (“My Name is Earl” and “Arrested Development”) are legitimately clever. I liked the way the four guys banter and bicker with each other, and there are some astute observations about the desperateness of middle-aged men pretending to be bad-ass bikers. (We all someone who did something similar, right?) I also laughed at the exploits of the nerdy Dudley, who has a hilariously warped way of dealing with the lack of bathrooms on the trip. That stuff works. Other things are not as successful. The idea that this “freeing” motorcycle trip miraculously solves all the characters’ problems is formulaic. And, most notably, the story is marred somewhat by a homophobic streak. It’s amazing to me that in the year 2007, it’s still considered an easy laugh to put a character in a situation where someone mistakes him as being gay.
To be quite clear, no one is ever going to mistake Wild Hogs for Citizen Kane. Director Walt Becker (Van Wilder) did not design his movie to be intellectually stimulating or deeply felt. It’s a lightweight comedy intended to give you some chuckles as you watch a talented cast having fun with an amusing premise. Sure, it’s mindless and forgettable, but if you want to kick back, chill out, and have a few good laughs, Wild Hogs gets the job done well enough.
( out of four)
Wild Hogs is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Wild Hogs
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