Monday, March 12, 2007

Wild Hogs

WILD HOGS (Walt Becker, 2007)

Four motorcycling friends in need of mid-life renewal set out from Cincinnati to the Pacific Ocean in WILD HOGS. Doug Madsen (Tim Allen) is tired of having to monitor the food he eats and afraid of seeming lame to his son. Bobby Davis (Martin Lawrence) feels emasculated because his wife wears the pants in the family. Although no one else knows, Woody Stevens (John Travolta) has lost everything, including his swimsuit model wife. Dudley Frank (William H. Macy) is single and geeky. With that name, what else could he be?

The guys are in need of some time to feel young again, so they hop onto their bikes and take off for a trip to the west coast. They vow to adhere to no rules--meaning no cell phones and predetermined schedules--in their attempt to recapture the energy they had before families and mortgages came along.

Calling themselves Wild Hogs, the four guys fashion themselves to be mildly rebellious types with their motorcycles and custom leather jackets. Upon rolling into a biker bar in New Mexico, they get a crash course in what it's like to be born to be wild. Jack (Ray Liotta), the leader of the Del Fuegos, pushes them around like a bunch of rag dolls and takes Dudley's motorcycle. While three of them slink away with their tails between their legs, Woody sneaks back to the bar and inadvertently blows it up. Needless to say, the Wild Hogs have found themselves some honest to goodness trouble befitting bikers.

While the characters in WILD HOGS strive to be something they're not, the film is perfectly comfortable with its broad, predictable humor. Amid the high concept and lowest common denominator comedies, there is something reassuring about a film content to exist in the middle. Like these suburban men, WILD HOGS is safe, familiar, and generally pleasant. There's nothing here you haven't seen many times before, but the actors possess enough charisma and good spirit to charm even if there's the sneaking suspicion that their skills are in service of something mediocre.

Straight out of a western (or SEVEN SAMURAI), the guys end up becoming the defenders of a meek small town. The Del Fuegos walk all over the locals in one of those quaint communities filmmakers love to depict. It's the kind of place where everyone knows each other and some festival is going on. The guys get to stand up for themselves, and Dudley even finds a sweet café owner played by Marisa Tomei to appreciate him. Allen, Lawrence, Travolta, and Macy have a good time playing off of one another. Even though the jokes are sitcom level, it's fun to watch them interact and not try to outdo one another.

What's less appealing is the film's aggressive homophobic attitude, expressed primarily through a series of recurring jokes with John C. McGinley's highway patrolman. It's not so much that the guys are embarrassed to be mistaken for gay men but the exaggerrated panic about it. The implicit message in WILD HOGS is about reclaiming what it means to be a man. The film doesn't need to adopt an "eww, gross!" attitude toward homosexuality to build up its main characters' self-esteem, which is why the flogging of outdated stereotypes is so disappointing here. (It also could have done without making Bobby's wife a harpy of the highest order too.)

Ultimately WILD HOGS relies too much on comedic crutches like the amazing malfunctioning computer--a lame joke seen most recently in BECAUSE I SAID SO--to support the goodwill the actors earn. These Hogs have been domesticated. There's nothing wrong with settling down, a conclusion the characters arrive at, but too much of the comedy is mild, not wild. It's like laughing at a joke you've heard your uncle tell a hundred times. OK, it's sort of funny, but mostly you're doing it to humor him.

Grade: C+

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