Having now seen the film, its popular appeal becomes an even greater mystery to me. For here is not a mediocre comedy that surprisingly caught on with the public. No, here is a truly awful, monumentally inept, wholly unwatchable mess that became a hit despite itself.
And it's not just a shaky premise or iffy acting or lazy jokes or idiotic scripting. It's bad in its very construction: the timing is never, ever, ever on the mark. Timing is everything for a comedy, and here, it's all off. Director Walt Becker (for whom "Van Wilder" sadly remains a career high point) fails to understand the very concept of pacing, and his staging trips over itself in every scene. Editors Christopher Greenbury and Stuart Pappé then compound the problem by failing to make a single cut work. Some scenes build up to a joke, but we cut away to a different shot before the joke arrives. (We sometimes cut away during a set-up!) Other scenes ramble on and on long after the punchline is delivered, and we just hang there, uncomfortably fidgeting, waiting for the editing to catch up. This is one of the most sloppily edited (and poorly staged) big studio productions in a very long time.
But let's say we fix all that. Let's pretend that the editors did a bang-up job of finding the perfect rhythms for this comedy, and Becker was magically granted a flawless knack for comic timing. Even then, "Wild Hogs" would still be a disaster. Why? Because it's rotten to the core. You can't fix a screenplay this faulty. Surprisingly, the script comes from Brad Copeland, a writer/producer from two quite un-sitcommy sitcoms, "My Name is Earl" and "Arrested Development." "Wild Hogs" marks his film debut, and it's so sitcommy, so cheap in its go-for-the-obvious, one has to wonder if it's the same Brad Copeland.
The story, in case you missed it, involved four middle-aged pals ditching their drab lives, firing up their Harleys, and heading out for a cross-country road trip. Right from the set-up, Copeland fails us. The four friends are played by John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy. They're all distinct personalities, from distinct backgrounds. (Lawrence's character is even years younger than the rest.) And yet they are the best of best friends - but only because the movie tells us they are. There's no clue how these people who otherwise would never hang out with each other became the best pals of the "Wild Hogs" weekend biking club. They never feel like they've known each other beyond the confines of the movie. A screenplay just can't tell us something is so without making it believable first.
This is a problem throughout the picture. Allen's character wears an AC/DC tour t-shirt in one key scene. And while we're constantly told that he used to be a real hardcore badass back in the day, there's nothing here that actually bothers to prove it. Indeed, the character plays like the kind of suburban dad who wouldn't even know who AC/DC are, let alone rock out to them in concert.
Macy, meanwhile, is a self-described geek, a computer programmer who talks to his computer in coffeehouses. Nothing about this character rings true in the slightest, not even with a terrific performer like Macy behind the role. His introductory scene has him accidentally calling up an endless stream of granny-on-animal porn websites, and it's the kind of moment that exists only in the worst situation comedies; the entire scene feels written around its punchline ("hmmm... how can I get the nerd to be embarrassed in public?") without any regard for having anything else in the scene work.
The same comic theory is put into effect later in the movie, when the guys gather at a ranch for a game of "slap the bull." This game, we're told, is a terrific adrenaline rush: slap an unsuspecting bull's backside and run off before you're disemboweled. The entire scene exists merely so we can eventually reach the point where all the guys are running wildly from a killer bull (set to banjo music, of all things). By inventing this game, Copeland cheats his way to his own punchline, lazily placing his characters right in front of the bull to await the impending comedy. Again, nothing else in this scene works, because it's not supposed to do anything but point the way to a cheap, loud, far-too-overlong pay-off.
Or what of a scene involving a plastic bag full of feces? Here, the screenplay does what the sloppy editing does elsewhere: it leads up to a whole lot of nothing. We're shown the bag of poop. The characters talk about the bag of poop. Jokes are had regarding the bag of poop. And then - nothing. The script changes its mind mid-scene, forgets the bag of poop ever existed, and moves on to something about a tent accidentally burning down. I suppose "forgetting you were supposed to have more bag-of-poop jokes because you were busy trying to figure out how to set things on fire instead" could be the perfect metaphor for this movie.
A plot of sorts kicks into gear when the guys run into genuine bikers, a gang led by Ray Liotta, who looks so bored by the material that the only way he can cope is to become a human cartoon. Liotta is supposed to be a dangerous fella, a thug who keeps a sleepy New Mexico town in a constant state of fear. After a harmless-meets-harmful-in-a-biker-bar sequence straight out of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (sadly, there's no "Tequila" dance), Travolta sorta-accidentally causes the bar to explode. For no clear reason other than the script demands it, he keeps this a secret from the other guys, who then wonder why Liotta and his gang, the Del Fuegos (or, if a visual gag late in the movie is to be believed, "Del Fuego's" - great horkin' sigh over a studio picture being so stupid they don't even know how apostrophes work), are out to kill them.
The problem is, Liotta is never a threat, because as a comedy, the movie is afraid to make him too menacing (which would push for a darker tone not fitting with a light comedy). The movie wants him to be breezy and funny and cartoonish. Which is then at odds with the later scenes, when we're supposed to feel real danger from this man. We never do, because the movie told us not to. But he's never funny enough, either, because - go figure - the movie wants to keep him as a possible threat. What a mess.
The film also contains a brutal amount of homophobia and even a hint of misogyny. Gay jokes play into much of the movie, including a running gag involving John C. McGinley as a swishy highway cop (a joke that, strangely yet mercifully, disappears midway through the picture). The very hint of non-manly behavior is mocked with vile derision, often for no reason; one scene features a limp-wrist sort doing karaoke to a Pussycat Dolls tune, and it exists only so we can get another chuckle at "them faggoty types."
Which is peculiar indeed, because the entire picture seems to be all about male bonding, finding happiness with your true self, and, above all, not having to be super-macho in order to be a man. There's a whole bit near the end when the Del Fuegos are mocked for being "posers," which I suppose suggests that manliness comes in all forms, even that of the wimpy computer geek. How hypocritical of this movie to suggest that if you don't act like a man, you're queer, but if you act too much like a man, you're a jerk. (Of course, even after calling the gang posers, the heroes get back on their bikes and try their best to be badass toughies. Proving it's possible to contradict your own themes over the course of just a few minutes.)
The misogyny is more played down, but it's there, all in the form of Lawrence's screeching, howling, domineering shrew of a wife. There are only three key women characters in the entire film: a love interest for the geek (Marisa Tomei), a role so underwritten it seems included at the last minute just so we could have a love story and keep this movie from getting, you know, too gay; Allen's wife (Jill Hennessy), a nice gal existing only to shoo off claims of wife-hating; and Tichina Arnold as Lawrence's devil-woman wife. She whines and complains and shouts orders at her loser husband. Women, the movie complains to us, don'tcha just wanna shut 'em up? (Of course, if you don't shut 'em up, it then adds, then you must be a queer.)
The rest of the movie's failures all bubble up from an endless supply of little things, tiny bits of lazy incompetence and cheapjack hack work. The performances are broad and obnoxious. A "surprise cameo" is added at the end for no real reason. The guys are from Cincinnati (that is to say, Albuquerque with two Reds banners and a whole lot of overly visible New Mexico signage), yet their wives are able to reach New Mexico by car within a few hours. The dialogue, perhaps to make up for all that bad editing, is riddled with clumsy exposition.
And yet, "Wild Hogs," a monument to problematic filmmaking, fifth-rate comedy, and questionable moral values, is a smash hit. I still don't get it.
Video & Audio
Presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format (with anamorphic enhancement), "Wild Hogs" looks and sounds excellent. As it should be, this being a brand new production and all. Colors are crisp, black levels are sharp, and the motion-heavy sequences come off clean as a whistle. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, perfectly balancing the jokey dialogue with the classic rock music and all that motorcycle revving. French and Spanish dubs are provided, as are subtitles in French, Spanish, and English for the Hearing Impaired.
For such a big hit, the DVD is surprisingly light on the bonus features. The only keeper here is the commentary from Becker and Copeland; they provide just enough behind-the-scenes anecdotes to keep the thing moving forward well enough. While not listed on the set-up page, there is an English subtitle track included for the commentary, accessible through your remote's "subtitle" button.
"Bikes, Brawls & Burning Bars: The Making of Wild Hogs" (16:18) is your typically flimsy EPK-style making-of, with interviews heavily padded with film clips. All interviews were done on the set except for Travolta, who seems to have been filmed in a Glamour Shots studio. (Complete with creepily excessive pancake makeup!) Most of the time is filled with "everyone was just sooooo funny!" filler, although we do get a (very) light rundown of how the cast learned to ride Harleys for the film.
"How to Get Your Wife to Let You Buy a Motorcycle" (2:48) is one of the emptiest, most pointless extras to ever grace a DVD. It's 75 percent movie clips and 25 percent fluff from the movie's stunt coordinator telling you to tell your wife that bikes are safe, and they also make you look cool. Whatever.
A limp alternate ending and two deleted scenes (4:08 total) reveal just how bad a joke has to be to get tossed out of "Wild Hogs." (Hint: one of them includes McGinley's gay cop. It's bigotriffic!) Two of the clips feature a Becker/Copeland commentary. If you select "Play All," the disc will play these two clips, then boot you back to the menu without playing the third - because if the makers of "Wild Hogs" can't figure out how to properly use apostrophes, they sure won't be able to grasp the concept behind "Play All."
The gag reel (2:33) contains several flubs already shown in the making-of feature. And those were the exciting outtakes.
The usual set of Disney trailers and promos round out the set. Those same promos also play as the disc first loads; you can skip over them if you choose.
Alright, so if you liked the movie enough to want to buy it, sure, you'll be pleased with the quality video/audio presentation. So go ahead. Look for a good price and pick it up. But if you haven't seen it yet, by all means Skip It - the movie is flat-out gawdawful and the disc's extras are useless.