Wild Hogs — in which John Travolta, William H. Macy, Tim Allen, and Martin Lawrence play emasculated suburbanites taking a cross-country motorcycle trip to rediscover their masculinity — doesn’t even sound like a real movie when you describe it to people. They give you that yer-shittin’-me stare, as though it were even possible to make up such a scenario outside of the office of The Player‘s Griffin Mill, who had to endure Buck Henry pitching him The Graduate 2. Then the disbelieving wonder if the actors — who also include Ray Liotta, Marisa Tomei, Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass, American Choppers‘ Paul Teutul Sr. and Jr., and sex-talker Dr. Drew Pinsky — even shot their scenes together or were filmed on separate soundstages. The thing appears to have been cast by a random generator.
Wild Hogs imagines itself as an amalgam of St. Elmo’s Fire, The Wild Bunch, and Deliverance — or so says smarmy, hammy Woody (Travolta), whose supermodel wife has left him bankrupt and homeless. It’s Woody who convinces his pals to ditch their day jobs for a week on the road, traveling from Ohio to California in strip-mall-purchased leather pants and perfectly polished Harleys. He’s the leader, for no other reason than that he’s John Travolta — larger than life and getting a little bigger every day (evident during a scene in which all four men doff their togs for a skinny-dip that’s anything but and everything butt). The other men, all desperately trying to find characters within their caricatures, are just along for the joyride, empty vehicles coasting in his wake. It’s especially dispiriting to see Macy, as a shy computer-programming klutz, stumbling around in a movie that renders him little more than a buffoonish punch line.
Wild Hogs, written by a man who’s done some Arrested Development episodes and directed by the guy who made Van Wilder, also fancies itself a sorta-sequel to Easy Rider; hence the last-scene cameo from one of that movie’s stars, who shows up to apologize for the bad behavior of a biker gang that’s lost sight of what it means to “be free.” In that respect, Wild Hogs would have you believe that it’s also a successor to Albert Brooks’s Lost in America, in which an ad man ditches his comfortable, conformist existence to drop out and discover the countryside. But Brooks’ film was a heartfelt send-up of the coddled yuppie who believes he was born to be wild. It was shot through with honest desperation, which made the jokes not only resonate but also redemptive. At least he knew he was being an ass. Wild Hogs cannot be bothered with context and care, with giving its protagonists something resembling soul and self-awareness. In fact, it comes off as surprisingly mean-spirited, down to every last we-ain’t-gay joke.
Doug (Allen) is a successful dentist with a pretty wife (Crossing Jordan‘s Jill Hennessy) and a cute kid who doesn’t think his old man’s cool. Bobby (Lawrence) is a hen-pecked plumber up to his rubber booties in convenience-store-bathroom shit. Dudley (Macy) is a nervous schlep who embarrasses himself by pouring coffee into his laptop when trying to pick up women. And Woody — well, about him we know nothing save for the fact he’s lost all his clients (what kind, we have no idea), his wife, and his home. We’re also told that Doug and Woody have been friends since high school, though they often act less like old pals than absolute strangers who keep from each other the kinds of secrets best friends share over a cold beer and an open road. Male bonding? More like severance.
It would give too much credit to Wild Hogs to try to fathom its intentions. It doesn’t deserve a trenchant discussion about the restlessness of the middle-aged man who believes rebellion can be purchased at a Harley-Davidson franchise or the deep-seated homophobia of Middle America. Maybe it was supposed to be about those things, but it wound up as nothing but a collection of lame and lazy jokes. The filmmakers can’t even be bothered to let these guys find adventure, instead filling the empty miles with, at most, a campout that ends with a burned-down tent and a horny gay state trooper.
Only Macy comes out of this thing unscathed. At least he’s not merely cashing the check, not simply mugging for the audience to wring giggles out of a bone-dry script. The movie does him no favors — he’s thrown from his bike repeatedly, bound with duct tape and hung from a post, and humiliated a dozen different ways — but Macy, who can handle Mamet and maudlin with admirable aplomb, has guts and brains enough to stare down anything tossed at him, even when he’s forced to do it bare-assed. That’s more than you can say about the other guys, who look like they’re just taking a cross-country trip to cash a check they haven’t earned.