I'm in a state of shock after watching "Wild Hogs." There was an assured recipe for disaster in this attempt to address the comedic edge to the Average Joe's mid-life crisis, especially considering some of the track records of the talent. Fortunately, "Hogs" appears to have one simple goal for itself: keep it silly.
Finding their lives have been swallowed by routine and disappointment, buddies Woody (John Travolta), Doug (Tim Allen), Bobby (Martin Lawrence), and Dudley (William H. Macy) decide to take their weekend hobby of riding motorcycles to the next level: a week-long road trip. Heading off to see America, the boys find only mishaps and accidents as they snake their way across the land. Their biggest offense is irritating the leader of a Hells Angels-like gang (Ray Liotta, in scenery-chewing Ray Liotta mode), forcing them to take refuge in a tiny New Mexico town, where they find love (Marisa Tomei), friendship, and the motorcycle gang right on their tail.
On paper, "Wild Hogs" looks to set up residence as a complete nightmare. It's a mass-marketed Disney production, featuring a juicy lesson on lost dreams that is ripe with melodrama, recent laugh school dropouts Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence, and direction by Walt Becker, the man who gave the world "Van Wilder." Wouldn't you be frightened too?
Somehow, "Hogs" isn't a torture device; in fact it's pretty amusing when it puts its mind to it. Credit goes to Becker for keeping the air around this film breathable with his deep focus on the intrinsic goofiness of watching these actors play butch for 90 minutes. It's a lighthearted slapstick romp, and Becker doesn't back down from the challenge, dishing up healthy spoonfuls of road trip sight gags, the actors in various hues of panic as they dodge trouble throughout the heartland, and their repeated comedic attempts to loosen up their stuffy lives through skinny dipping and camping. It's not "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," but when a bloated mainstream comedy title such as "Hogs" can execute a joke well, an angel gets its wings.
Of course, I could've done without the insistence on gags involving poop-filled baggies and crotch wallops, the usage of a cartoon frying pan clobber sound effect, and some facial smacks that are too easily telegraphed. Becker isn't perfect here, but credit should be given where it's due and "Hogs" is a funny film; it carries itself around with a cheerful spirit, only looking to please. That commitment to entertainment goes a long way to blotting out the lesser moments of cheeseball pratfalls and underlying homophobia that keeps the experience at arm's length.
For the performances alone, Becker deserves high praise. Without the burden of anchoring the whole endeavor, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence actually come across as charming. That spit-take of disbelief you heard was me when Lawrence managed a single comical moment where he dresses down the rival gang with some beer and liberal usage of two ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles. I forgot Lawrence had it in him.
It's John Travolta and William H. Macy who steal the film. This is the loosest Travolta has been in some time, and he looks like he's really having fun here as the Hog with the least to lose. His nervous reactions to the escalating threat are the film's highlights. Macy leans into the comedic potential of the material as well, really digging his heels into the tech-nerd personality contrasted with the leather-bound bike god. While not always a scream, Macy puts in an incredible effort here, and even some nudity. Ya know, for the ladies.
"Wild Hogs" doesn't possess a single frame of cleverness, but in Brad Copland's ("My Name is Earl," "Arrested Development") script, the broad comedy is respected and embraced instead of used as a crutch. Once the third act came and went without much of a protracted stab at an overall message (oh, I don't know, something like "I didn't ride that bike, the bike rode me"), it was clear that "Wild Hogs" was somewhat special. It may not always land the perfect joke, but it never stops trying either.
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