Wild Hogs

“Wild Hogs” is a comedy that’s as featherweight as they come, but if you have any appreciation for broad physical humour and silly high jinks, you’ll probably have a great time watching it. Featuring an all-star foursome as the main draw (including a surprisingly hilarious turn by William H. Macy), the film delivers most of its comedic highlights early on, with gusto, and while the rhythm flattens out for a while after that, the movie has more than enough fuel to sustain the interest to the end. If you’ve seen Van Wilder, the previous film from Walt Becker, you’ll know it’s better to check your brain at the door, but the director has a good understanding of what makes comedy work, and he knows he’s working with seasoned actors who’ll make the most of the material.

Dudley (Macy), Doug (Tim Allen), Woody (John Travolta) and Bobby (Martin Lawrence) are weekend warriors who hang on to their idealized freedom by riding their bikes around suburban Cincinnati, calling themselves the Wild Hogs (with the cool logo sewn on the back of their leather coats by Doug’s wife, played by Jill Hennessy). They all have some kind of dissatisfaction in their lives: Doug’s son thinks Dad isn’t cool enough, Dudley’s badly intimidated by women, Bobby’s henpecked by his wife (Tichina Arnold) and Woody is facing divorce and bankruptcy, although he doesn’t reveal that information when he talks the guys into hitting the open road and “putting some real miles on those bikes”. The Hogs then embark on a West Coast-bound, male-bonding trip that’s sure to run into at least a little trouble. The trek officially begins, if you will, after a collective cell phone thrashing, where Dudley furthers his character’s knee-slapping tendency to create a mess out of every situation he’s involved in. Macy has done hapless before, but as far as I know the talented character actor has never approached such unbridled zaniness, and he’s a riot. Belly laughs come early and often, notably but not exclusively from his questionable motorcycle control (something as basic as fist-tapping turns into an adventure with a strong chance of bodily harm and property damage).

The script from Brad Copeland, whose experience is in episodic TV, sputters in spots but is largely effective at creating humorous situations. The scene at the campsite, where the Hogs wake up after sleeping with suspicious proximity on a mattress, leads to a hysterically misinformed assessment from a jealous cop played by John C. McGinley (the double entendres from Bobby & co. had me doubled over in laughter). And when the guys take it all off for a swim in a creek, what do you think the odds are that an All-American, wholesome family will show up at exactly that moment? The Hogs’ trip runs into more complications outside the small town of Madrid, New Mexico, where the boys run afoul of a biker gang led by a sullen-looking Ray Liotta. This leads to the more juvenile and least effective parts of the plot, but hey, it’s still nice to hear Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”.

The cast is virtually guaranteed to bring in huge box office. Allen has been in some of the most inane comedies known to mankind, but his Joe Somebody persona works well here. Lawrence has also been in some idiotic stuff, but his swagger wins me over more often than not. The closest thing to a miscast is Travolta, but to be fair the role is not exactly fleshed out. Taken together, the Hogs have an easygoing rapport and a fine chemistry, making them a likable bunch. There’s a perfunctory romantic subplot between Dudley and bar owner Maggie (the lovely Marisa Tomei), but Tomei has so much warmth, charm and energy (see among others Untamed Heart, The Perez Family or even something like Anger Management) that it almost makes up for it; there’s a moment where she compliments his qualities that wouldn’t be out of place in a much more thoughtful film. And you gotta love the late cameo from an Easy Rider, who brings peace to Madrid by serenely telling everybody what riding’s all about. “Wild Hogs” is certainly not highbrow; but it’s a smooth ride with plenty of good laughs.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay