A film review by Craig J. Koban
2007, PG-13, 99 mins.
Woody Stevens: John Travolta / Doug Madsen: Tim Allen / Bobby Davis: Martin Lawrence / Dudley Frank: William H. Macy / Kelly Madsen: Jill Hennessy / Jack: Ray Liotta / Maggie: Marisa Tomei
Directed by Walt Becker / Written by Brad Copeland.
WILD HOGS stinks, kind of like the odor that emanates from a festering pile of smelly road kill.
It’s made all the more dreadful based on the fact that it takes a talent pool that is – for the most part – comprised of gifted talent and reduces them down to infantile comedic levels. This is a comedy that likes to incorporate - in one instance - multiple Oscar nominees mugging the camera with feces all over their faces as a source for laughs. In all fairness, WILD HOGS is about as humorous as a poop-filled diaper. To take a page out of an AC/DC song, I journeyed on a Highway to Hell sitting through it.
The film is advertised as a middle-aged, coming of age comedy, but its attempts at laughs barely reach the level of a third-rate TV sitcom. Its attempts at small scenes of low-key sentimentality have the dramatic weight of a Pilsner commercial. The film is about being free and hitting the country for a life-affirming road trip. I certainly enjoyed two aspects of my journey seeing this film: my walk into the theatre and my very abrupt exit out of it.
WILD HOGS is a CITY SLICKERS for the intellectually challenged. That latter Billy Crystal comedy was wickedly funny and had a right amount of heart. It did a decent job of showing nine-to-five men desperately trying to find some meaning in the monotony of their lives. The script was sharp, sly, and spoke towards some basic truths about getting older.
WILD HOGS covers the same basic territory, at the most superficial levels. It too has men in their 40’s and 50’s that are trying to recapture their long-lost sense of freedom and independence that they felt in their youth. However, in this film the comedy is lethargic, tired, and brainless, largely revolving around everything from fecal matter and jokes against gays. When are studios going to realize that humor based around bodily fluids and seedy, sex-starved homosexuals are just not that cutting edge anymore? I think it peaked with a certain bodily fluid was being used as hair gel in 1997’s THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. That Farrelly Brother comedy is Tolstoy compared to HOGS.
Maybe I should have read the label going into the film: It was directed by the talentless Walt Becker, who made one of the worst films of recent memory in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER. That film’s idea of a laugh-out-loud pratfall was to use canine ejaculate to stuff pastries with in order to cruelly play a foul joke on some witless character. Is it just me, or is the sight of a person masturbating animals for the purpose of completing a donut recipe not all that appealing? Call me crazy.
Perhaps my biggest finger wag of shame should go to all of the participants, which includes the likes of Academy Award nominated actors like John Travolta, William H, Macy, and Marisa Tomei (a winner, no less) alongside the likes of comedic stars like Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence. Ray Liotta also shows up - a terrific actor when he wants to be - but when I left WILD HOGS I never once thought that this was a script that any of the actors truly had their hearts in. I am amazed that I could not see them all collectively rubbing their hands together at the thought of their big pay checks, because those were certainly required to convince A-list stars to participate in this tired and witless exercise. All of the actors mentioned have been funny in films before, but the absolute shocker of WILD HOGS is how utterly vacant the film is for even modest chuckles.
The title characters are four middle-aged men that live in suburbia and have their own motorcycle gang. One is a dentist named Doug Madsen (Tim Allen, never generating one decent laugh), the unemployed Woody Stevens (John Travolta, who has never looked so desperate to get a laugh), a janitor named Bobby Davis (Martin Lawrence, a comic dead zone here) and a computer geek named Dudley Frank (William H. Macy, playing an uber nerd on comedic auto pilot). Much like those other movie city clickers, this foursome have let their tedious lives of normalcy get the better of them. Most of them have wives and families that they love and support, but what they yearn for is a little bit of adventure and excitement. Doug himself seems really energized for a little R & R (“I have not been out of Cincinnati in over 12 years!”).
Needless to say, they all seemed coaxed by the very persuasive Woody to all get together and go on a Born To Be Wild road trip of excess, fun, and spontaneity. They leave everything behind, including their families, kids, and mortgages. This is the ultimate journey of freedom, and I guess the film’s idea of “freedom” is to gather this talent and parade them through every old and recycled joke in the book. I use to respect John Travolta for the way he managed to escape career suicide out of those slumbering LOOK WHO’S TALKING films and forge a great comeback in films like PULP FICTION and GET SHORTY. When he is forced to overact to egregious degrees and is part of scenes where massive amounts of insect excrement is thrown at his face, then it is clear that is career is quickly spiraling back downwards. There is nothing more embarrassing than seeing a great actor make a complete ass of himself.
The group has setbacks along the way, which are highlighted in scenes of such startling, head shaking, cringe-worthiness. There is one moment where Dudley is driving his bike and goes right into a billboard sign and is thrown off his bike and to the ground.
There is also another mind-numbingly dumb scene where the group tries to set up camp for the night and one of them sets fire to the tent, after which Dudley comes and throws alcohol on it to put out the fire.
Of course, the group is all forced to sleep together on one air mattress and in the morning a state trooper wakes them all up. Now, the joke here is that you would assume that the trooper would think that the men are all gay. Alas, in this film, the creepy trooper is a gay deviant, is aroused by the sight of the men in their underwear, and asks if he can join in.
The gay jabs don’t end here. When the group goes skinny dipping later (don’t ask why), a young Bible-thumping family wants to join in, but when they find out they are all naked, they – yup – think that the men are all involved in a gay orgy. And – yup – that gay sexaholic state trooper catches up with them and again wants to join in.
If being mistaken for homosexuals was not bad enough, the hapless group also finds their way into a nasty looking biker bar. Inside houses a real badass biker gang called The Del Fuegos, who all look like really mean vermin. The film could have generated some real laughs if their portrayed the bikers against stereotypes and made them all home loving, Martha Stewart worshipping suburbanites like the Hogs. Nope, instead the film goes rigidly with standard conventions and makes the bikers gnarly and despicable. They are all led by Jack, played by a never-more-obnoxious Ray Liotta, who – at least I think – yells out every single one of his moronic lines for proper evil effect. His performance here is teeth-grating, which is sad to see, considering the fact that he is usually an enthralling and charismatic actor.
Of course, the Hogs go in and thinks they will be treated like equals. Yeah…right. In no time Jack steals Dudley’s bike and sends the bunch packing. Woody will have none of that, and attempts to go back for some payback. Unfortunately, he inadvertently blows up the biker bar and trashes their bikes. Realizing that their lives are all in danger, Woody convinces his buddies to shack up in a small New Mexico town and hide. While there, Dudley meets up with a cute restaurant owner, Maggie (played in a marginalized role by Marisa Tomei) and the two fall in love. Soon, it appears that the evil gang discovers their whereabouts and the Hogs decide that they will have to stand up to the them once and for all. Well, they kind of have to, seeing as the town sheriff has no gun and got his training via an online correspondence course.
WILD HOGS is 99 minutes, but it felt like 999. I have rarely seen films like this that go for broke and aim high for hilarity and then fall so utterly flat. If I were a multiple finger amputee then I still would have too many fingers to count how many times I laughed during the course of the movie. Travolta seems to have recoiled back to his BATTLEFIELD EARTH-method of chronic overacting (I was always waiting for him to spew out “Filthy man-animals” at some point in the film). He has never been so unbearable as he is here, and his attempts at even lowbrow comedy are as forced as they come. Macy is kind of appealing as a nerd, but – c’mon – this is not a stretch for him. Lawrence and Allen never generate sustained giggles from any of their antics, and Liotta himself seems like he should be in another movie. Tomei herself plays such a one-dimensional figure that it must have been out of absolute career desperation that she agreed to be in the film.
And another thing: I never once believed that all of these guys are actual friends. In CITY SLICKERS I felt a natural and realistic sense of camaraderie with those characters. They had chemistry and appeal. In WILD HOGS I felt more like I was watching actors that were pitifully reciting lines of dialogue off the page verbatim in an effort to generate chemistry. There is never any rhythm or cadence to their highjinks and no one ever really plays effectively off of one another. At one point when Dudley says that he wanted to approach a girl and talk to her but all he could think of was “black jokes”, Lawrence stares at him with puzzlement. I did as well. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre. The laughs in the film should have been high octane, but instead the film is purely running on gaseous vapors.
If you like jokes about homosexual perverts, mosquito dung, jugular eating crows, urination, or any other juvenile and inspired pratfall of the most inane variety, then WILD HOGS is the comic vehicle for you to get on board with. For the rest of us that have even modest demands out of actors like Travolta, Macy, and Liotta, then the film represents a travesty of horrifically contrived moments and even more appalling flaccid humor. Road comedies about men that are going gray and try to bind with one another have rarely been so blasé, and WILD HOGS sort of represents how to take many actors of great appeal and have them sludge through scene after scene of shaky slapstick and even more wooden and phony sentiment. The film is uncultured, sad, and depressing. It is inordinately frustrating to sit through and the big name talent that cashed in heavily to appear in WILD HOGS owe it to the viewers to refund their admission price right out of their pockets.
Now that would be a way to be defiant and rebellious in their advancing years!