Every society gets the biker movie it deserves. A repressed 1950’s America was visited with its first taste of teenage rebellion in “The Wild One,” while a country on the verge of a full-blown plastic fantastic freak-out in 1966 was treated to “The Wild Angels.” In 1984, when MTV was showing us all that good hair was more important to music than actual singing, we got the pretty but largely brainless “Streets of Fire” (yes, I realize I’m stretching the ‘biker movie’ definition a bit), and a country glutted on extreme sports and crappy computer-generated racing F/X enjoyed “Biker Boyz” in 2003.
That said, it stands to reason that the United States of 2007, a nation consisting largely of indolent anti-intellectuals force-fed a steady diet of PG-13 comedy and sterile, Disney-fied entertainment should be subjected to “Wild Hogs,” an indolent, PG-13, Disney “biker” flick that does for comedies what Exxon did for Prince William Sound.
Lest anyone think I’m being needlessly harsh, let’s take a look at the premise. Recall that Marlon Brando’s Johnny, when asked what he was rebelling against, answered “Whaddya got?” Or that Captain America and Billy were futilely searching for freedom in an increasingly oppressive and paranoid land. In “Wild Hogs,” our four middle-aged bandito wannabes are…running away from the responsibilities of being a grown-up. Dentist Doug (Tim Allen) is desperate to recapture the carefree spirit of youth as a way to ignore the fact that his son doesn’t respect him and, well, he’s a dentist. Woody (John Travolta) is some sort of yuppie scumbag whose trophy wife has run out on him, and he’s just discovered he’s broke. Dudley (William H. Macy) is a computer programmer who celebrates the group’s ride to the Pacific by getting a tattoo…of the Apple Computers logo (in authentic rainbow coloring, which provides a hilarious touchstone for the movie’s endless gay jokes). Finally, Bobby (Martin Lawrence) – the only black guy and coincidentally (?) the only one with a blue collar job – is fleeing his nagging harpy of a wife.
The idea of grown men ditching their responsibilities for a guys-only vacation is hardly new (and taken on that level, perfectly understandable). What makes the so-called Wild Hogs unbearable is the way they perfectly embody the aesthetic of the “weekend biker” douchebag. They ride custom Harleys, dress in spotless leathers, and wear their too-tight t-shirts over swelling guts without the slightest hint of ironic self-awareness. When they inevitably run afoul of a real biker gang and are verbally abused by its leader (a more psychotic than usual Ray Liotta) for being pathetic middle-aged posers, you want to stand up and cheer.
[Dear Buena Vista Pictures: please do not use that “stand up and cheer” comment in an out-of-context capacity for your ad campaign.]
As for comedic antics, director Walt Becker pulls out all the stops. On their journey, the Hogs will: make gay jokes, endure original and not-at-all dated motorcycle-related mishaps (bugs/birds in the face, getting knocked off by inanimate objects), question each other’s sexuality, suffer blows to the groin, inadvertently arouse a homosexual highway patrolman (John C. McGinley), and get involved in the least realistic biker brawl since the original “Cannonball Run.” Come on Walt, you’ve got John Travolta, Tim Allen, and Martin Lawrence together in the same movie. Is a little chain-whipping too much to ask?
Thematically, “Wild Hogs” is almost identical to 1991’s “City Slickers,” another movie about a group of whiny 40-somethings unable to come to grips with their receding hairlines and shattered dreams. At least that movie had Jack Palance. “Wild Hogs” has Marisa Tomei (who accepted her Oscar from Palance), but it’s not the same. Bad enough that the movie was made in the first place, but not even throwing us the bone of tacking on an “Easy Rider” shotgun-to-the-face ending is a mark of shame upon us all.