For all of its flaws, Wild Hogs does manage to accomplish a feat so impressive it could make magician David Blaine envious: it shrinks the careers of four veteran actors, right before our very eyes.
Wild Hogs is a comedy about four suburban men afflicted with simultaneous mid-life crises. Each boasts his own unique brand of dysfunction: former party animal Doug (Tim Allen) feels stifled by the trappings of suburban family life; Woody's (John Travolta) slick exterior masks a growing anxiety over his impending divorce and bankruptcy; Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is too timid to stand up to his domineering wife; uber-nerd Dudley (William H. Macy) is thoroughly flummoxed by the opposite sex.
With middle age fast approaching, the four malcontents decide to embark on a cross-country motorcycle trip in the hopes of recapturing some of their youthful exuberance.
"A disastrous collection of slapstick, gross-out jokes and gay misunderstandings."
The first 20 minutes of Wild Hogs contains some of the most hackneyed, achingly unfunny comedy I've ever seen on film, and while the story eventually gains its footing -- however precarious -- it's not enough to erase the memory of the movie's torturous first act.
Not since Ishtar has such a distinguished group of actors stumbled so badly. Watching the great William H. Macy repeatedly humiliate himself as the group's bumbling punching bag is enough to inspire pity. He lumbers through the movie with a pained look on his face, as if he's wondering, "What on earth have I gotten myself into?" Marisa Tomei plays Macy's love interest, prompting even those who consider her Oscar win an aberration to concede that the actress deserves better.
For Travolta, the blunder is less surprising: he's been on a steady downward slide since Get Shorty, and has almost completely exhausted the credibility Tarantino graciously bestowed upon him with Pulp Fiction.
Ironically, it's Lawrence who turns in the best performance of the group. He seems the most at ease in this environment, perhaps owing to his lengthy resume of sophomoric comedies. Allen boasts his own array of lowbrow comedies, but unlike Lawrence, Allen isn't funny in any of them.
And the comedy in Wild Hogs is definitely sophomoric: a disastrous collection of slapstick, gross-out jokes and gay misunderstandings that wouldn't make the cut in a Farrelly brothers movie.
It shouldn't be this awful, considering the talent involved. The screenplay is from Brad Copeland, a veteran of two critically acclaimed sitcoms: Fox's short-lived Arrested Development and NBC's Emmy-winning My Name is Earl. Yes, they are sitcoms. But they're good sitcoms, smarter and cleverer than the usual pabulum that passes for comedy on network TV.
Director Walt Becker certainly deserves his share of the blame. I'm not sure what Disney saw in Becker's previous film, Van Wilder, that made him right for Wild Hogs. Perhaps it was Van Wilder's skillful execution of sophisticated jokes involving cross-dressing and canine ejaculation. Whatever it is, Becker's previous work looks like Citizen Kane when compared to Wild Hogs.