Toward the end of Wild Hogs, I couldn't help but recall a scene from Three Amigos!; three unemployed, clumsy actors attempt to become the heroes they've played on screen so many times before in order to rescue an innocent woman from an evil clan of Mexican bandits. The two films have a lot in common: they both feature a group of simple men who pretend to be bad-ass rebels, but wind up disturbing the real-life warriors they so want to emulate. They both feature small towns (or villages) overrun by a gang of misfits out to take what they want, when they want it. Lastly, they both feature a crop of familiar Hollywood talent that, with the right script, are capable of providing an entertaining and satisfying moviegoing experience. Unfortunately, Wild Hogs got wrong everything Three Amigos! got right, and the result is a campy, poorly-written flick that relies too heavily on its physical comedy, without taking advantage of its diverse, multi-talented cast.
For the first half hour, pic repeatedly hits us over the head with the fact that our four main characters have grown into middle-aged boring men who wouldn't know fun and adventure if it came squealing into their driveways. Doug (Tim Allen) is a dentist who fails to earn respect from his wife and son because he's not a real doctor ... he's only a dentist. Woody (John Travolta) used to be a successful businessman, but is now flat broke after his supermodel girlfriend decided to toss him to the curb. Bobby (Martin Lawrence) is a plumber who takes orders from his wife as if he were the family pet, instead of the family man. And Dudley (William H. Macy) is our token geek; single, clumsy, stubborn and the butt of most of the sitcom-esque jokes -- in fact, I was half expecting a laugh track to pop up each and every time Dudley fell off his motorcycle (which, mind you, happens so often we can spot the joke coming from a mile away.)
The one thing the boys do have in common is that they love to ride, going so far as to form a mini biker club called Wild Hogs to give them a hobby to pursue on the weekends. When Woody comes up with an idea to take a week-long road trip, the guys are at first hesitant -- after all, it's hard for them to just pick up and leave their suburban responsibilities for a whole week. But, with a little convincing, the Wild Hogs are soon on the road -- living the dream -- and only a few miles away from a whole mess of trouble. After a couple of blatant homophobic scenes (John C. McGinley plays a beefed-up gay cop who follows the boys around looking to take part in what he believes is some sort of biker gang bang), the Wild Hogs stumble into a real biker bar where the atmosphere isn't so friendly. The Del Fuego's, lead by a ferocious but PG-13 tame Jack (Ray Liotta), are a real biker gang -- the kind of guys who have no problem stealing Dudley's bike, while threatening to crush these suburban wannabees with nothing more than a few angry stares.
Though the rest of the Wild Hogs are perfectly content with cowardly riding off into the sunset, Woody sneaks back to the bar, steals back Dudley's bike and cuts the gasoline lines on all the Del Fuego's rides; a risky act that ultimately ends with the biker bar exploding and a blood thirsty biker gang out for revenge. With a script from Brad Copeland (Arrested Development, My Name is Earl), it's disappointing to see that he takes no risks with plot or dialogue; both are as cookie-cutter as they come, with a cornucopia of on-the-nose lines like, "You couldn't handle this kind of freedom" or "Don't you feel you're missing something out of life?" The smart, witty humor that's garnered him two Emmy nominations is all but non-existent, replaced by way too many sight-gags and Kyle Gass (one half of Tenacious D) doing creepy karaoke for absolutely no reason whatsoever than to get a cheap laugh or three. Director Walt Becker attempts to mimic his previous hit, Van Wilder, by dumbing this puppy way down -- to a level that's almost embarrassing to watch -- and you can't help but wonder whether folks like Macy, Liotta and Travolta lost a bet.
Except for a few beautiful Americana postcard-esque snapshots, Becker's film is about as hollow as Dudley's brain. That's not to say Copeland offered a tremendous amount of help with his script; you know it's bad when a screenwriter is forced to end his film by introducing a Deus ex machina (disguised as an unexpected cameo). Bonus points are awarded to a few cast members who try hard, even though they're limited to what's on the page. Travolta's take on a character that's cool, but hopeless, is worth more than a few chuckles, as is Macy in a role that could be described as Ned Flanders visits a biker gang. Yet, with every forced smile comes a whole lot of head scratching; Marisa Tomei, as Macy's love interest (I know, I can't really see it either), was so dry and emotionless, it felt as if they dropped her on set for three hours with no direction and a few random lines.
And Liotta -- tied down to Disney's family-friendly version of a street tough -- is just itching to smash a bottle over someone's head or put a cigarette out in someone's eye, but is too restrained and held back by a few different variations of the same "Let's get those Wild Hogs!" line of dialogue. With all that said, Wild Hogs is not quite the bomb it desperately tries to be -- if there's one thing Disney knows best, it's making their films appeal to a wide audience. Though the first half is filled with one too many awkward gay jokes (perhaps that sort of thing works in a film like Van Wilder, but with a cast of middle-aged men it felt a bit odd and out of place), the second half piles on the jokes and will appeal to those folks looking for a simple, paint-by-numbers night out at the movies.