Prior to my screening of Wild Hogs, the theatre played an advertisement in which two identical cars "sumo fight" on an elevated circular stage. Each car is distinguished by its performance. One charges forth, its engines roaring healthily, its nose forcing the other back. This other, its engine squealing pathetically, submits to the force of its opponent until eventually plummeting from the edge of the stage. The difference between the two cars? The first was running on superior fuel.
This car reminds me of Wild Hogs. Ostensibly, Wild Hogs is the same model as every other middle-of-the-road road movie; a hybrid vehicle that mishmashes middle-age crisis comedy with fish-out-of-water, city-slicker slapstick. However, its charismatic and effortless cast, and the occasional bit of wit, see that it performs better than the usual Hollywood dross regularly offered up as comedy. Hence its box office success.
Doug (Tim Allen) is a dentist who wanted to be a doctor, and lives a dissatisfying suburban life (according to Hollywood, is there any other suburban life?) with loving wife Kelly (Jill Hennessy). Woody (John Travolta) has been recently divorced by his supermodel wife and no longer has a penny to his name. He can't even pay ten dollars to have his yard raked. Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is trying to write a do-it-yourself book, but his wife (Tichina Arnold) henpecks him mercilessly, demanding that he return to "real work." Finally, timid and stammering Dudley (William H. Macy) is a computer technician looking for a bit of adventure in his life.
Together, Doug, Woody, Bobby and Dudley are the "Wild Hogs." The four regularly get together to ride their motorbikes around the suburbs, recapturing their college days, until the desperate Woody suggests a cross-country road trip, all the way from Cincinnati to California. The Hogs leave their troubles behind, only to discover that the open road has a few troubles in store up ahead.
It's City Slickers meets Road House via Easy Rider told with a tone halfway between Mrs Doubtfire and Old School. Nothing is fresh in the mechanics of this vehicle. The plot is tired and the characters are rote. Eventually, and predictably, the four land in the small town of Madrid where Dudley meets local diner owner Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and the Hogs have to protect the town from a biker gang led by Jack (Ray Liotta). Director Walt Becker's efforts in stringing this all together is serviceable. The film is not as stunted and choppy as his previous effort, Van Wilder, but as a director, he still has no real identity.
What makes the film work is the performances. I have never been a fan of Martin Lawrence, but he shines here, settling into his middle-age and seeming less desperate to fill the happily unfilled void left when Eddie Murphy passed his use-by. His eyes, whether rolling or bulging, work really well when unconstrained by the distraction of a fat suit. Allen brings his usual Tool Time charm, and Macy adds a level of professionalism to his inspiringly goofy treatment of even the most fecally-charged material.
The efforts of the actors are somewhat undone by such boyish obsessions in the script. Sitcom writer Brad Copeland seems fascinated with everything that bores in frat boy comedies, and thus we are treated to Dudley's bag of poo and the literal slapping of a bull on the butt. To be fair, the script has some very bright spots; I liked it when the firm Bobby's wife gets him a job at is actually a plumbing company named "The Firm."
In this otherwise predictable film, it comes as a surprise that the usually brilliant Travolta seems an unwanted distraction. His performance is awkward, almost as if he never takes a moment seriously. Still, quibbles aside, Wild Hogs is an enjoyable enough ride for the undemanding viewer. It runs on good fuel, but the vehicle itself just isn't great.
Don't you know you're supposed to save that stuff for when the terrorists attack?