This review was written for the theatrical release of "Wild Hogs."
NEW YORK -- With its clever premise and quartet of appealing comedic star turns, "Wild Hogs" is a step above the typical comedies rolling off the assembly lines of the major studios. Unfortunately, though it gets off to a promising beginning, the film soon degenerates into typical slapstick silliness that, while it should prove crowd-pleasing, squanders its considerable comedic potential.
Demonstrating the sort of star teaming that the Walt Disney Co. employed so successfully in the 1980s, the film stars Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy as four middle-age buddies who confront the crises involving their professional and home lives by donning leather jackets and taking off on their motorcycles for a cross-country road trip.
At first it seems like a good idea, as the men revel in their newfound freedom. But what starts out as a lark soon turns disastrous as they run afoul of a massive biker gang led by the cheerfully sadistic Jack (Ray Liotta, entertainingly working in his villainous "Something Wild" mode). When the guys manage to accidentally blow up the gang's bar, it eventually leads to a showdown in a bucolic small town named Madrid (emphasis on the first syllable), where the local sheriff (Stephen Tobolowsky) is of little help.
Brad Copeland's screenplay starts out well enough, briefly and entertainingly delineating the dissatisfactions of the titular quartet, from nerdy computer programmer Macy's trouble with women to dentist Allen's not having had a vacation in years to Lawrence's henpecked hubby's professional woes to Travolta's loss of his supermodel wife and successful business.
But it isn't long before the humor reaches a lowest common denominator level, much of it, strangely enough, centering on the theme of homosexual panic. From the quartet's disturbing encounter with a gay motorcycle cop (funnily played by the normally macho John C. McGinley) to the endless gags revolving around Travolta's discomfort with Macy's physical familiarity and throwaway bits like an effete male singer performing a Pussycat Dolls song, the film approaches a level of offensive stereotyping not seen since "Cruising."
Still, the onscreen chemistry demonstrated by the likable performers, who clearly seem to be enjoying one another, goes a long way toward overcoming the film's mechanical and distasteful aspects. And the subplot involving Macy's awkward courtship of a beautiful waitress (Marisa Tomei) has a sweetness that contrasts well with the otherwise vulgar humor.
There's also a fun surprise cameo toward the end, from an actor who seems to be enjoying a career renaissance exploiting his iconic screen association with motorcycles.
Buena Vista Pictures
A Touchstone Pictures release of a Tollin/Robbins production
Director: Walt Becker
Screenwriter: Brad Copeland
Producers: Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins, Todd Lieberman
Executive producers: Sharla Sumpter Bridgett, Amy Sayres
Director of photography: Robbie Greenberg
Production designer: Michael Corenblith
Editors: Christopher Greenbury, Stuart Pappe
Costume designer: Penny Rose
Music: Teddy Castellucci
Doug Madsen: Tim Allen
Woody Stevens: John Travolta
Bobby Davis: Martin Lawrence
Dudley Frank: William H. Macy
Jack: Ray Liotta
Maggie: Marisa Tomei
Red: Kevin Durand
Murdock: M.C. Gainey
Kelly Madsen: Jill Hennessy
Billy Madsen: Dominic Janes
Karen Davis: Tichina Arnold
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13