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March 2, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | March 2, 2007 |

If you’ve given up hope on the human project, Wild Hogs is the movie for you. If you have a hard time deciding whether gay people are more creepy or ridiculous, Wild Hogs is the movie for you. If you’ve ever been kept up at night wondering why Hollywood hasn’t come to its senses and finally brought together John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, and Tim Allen for a slapstick comedy about four middle-aged guys who try to reconnect with their less burdened younger selves by embarking on a cross-country motorcycle trip, Wild Hogs is the movie for you. And Thorazine is the drug for you.

Our culture churns out crap faster than the Army Corps of Engineers could shovel it, so it would be disingenuous to act shocked by even its most willfully awful products. Still, the first time I saw the preview for Wild Hogs, my jaw fell a bit further toward the sticky cinema floor with each washed-up hack who popped up to pollute the screen. Given that a central portion of Pajiba’s mission is to treat the worst of Hollywood the way that nicotine-dazed, knife-wielding factory workers treat taser-stunned cattle, I knew that I had to claim this one for myself.

That’s right: I asked for this assignment.

The bad news, for my purposes, is that Wild Hogs is not what the preview suggested it might be, i.e., the worst movie of all time. But of course, that leaves it room to be plenty terrible, and it is.

It’s Travolta who gets the Hogs on the road. (In this case, referring to the main characters by their fictional names would be ridiculous. I think they’re Doug, Woody, Bobby and Dudley, in some order, but if you can forget the actors you’re watching in this for even three seconds, your disbelief is in a state of permanent suspension.) His friends envy his supermodel wife and his wealth, but they’re unaware that she recently left him and he’s broke. (Because the four of them are such good friends, see?) Over lunch at a suburban TGIBenniChiliBee’s, he convinces his buddies, all of whom are recreational — and utterly unbelievable — motorcyclists who ride under the titular name, to head in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, to find whatever it is that paunchy American guys allegedly lose when they turn 45.

If Travolta once possessed a knack for comedy (and there’s precious little proof he did), rest assured that he doesn’t now. It’s impossible to call him the squeaky wheel, though, when the movie has three more of them; he’s more like the wheel that just sprung off and is now bounding over the median into oncoming traffic. Lawrence at least manages to sell a couple of physical jokes, Macy makes quite a convincing putz (which doesn’t seem much different than many of the roles he’s been praised for), and Allen — well, the script mercifully doesn’t allow him to do much damage (one “Home Improvement”-style caveman grunt is crammed in, of course). But can someone please, after these many years, draft some kind of formal document retracting all the praise Tarantino once got for being hip enough to revive Travolta’s career? Some graves are best left undisturbed.

Once the four protagonists hit the highway, Wild Hogs aspires to the existential heights of City Slickers (think about that), but it makes Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern read like Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot. The first time the Hogs set up camp, they immediately launch into generic middle-aged yearning and complaint set to sentimental music. The prefab soul-searching is quickly interrupted when one of them hurls a burning marshmallow into a tent and Macy mistakenly attempts to extinguish the fire with a canister of gasoline, which is exactly as funny as it sounds.

Midway through the movie, a plot surprisingly rears its head. The Hogs come upon a bar in the middle of the desert that belongs to a real motorcycle gang, the Del Fuegos, led by Ray Liotta. Long story short, Travolta triggers a chain of events that leads to the cherished bar exploding in a mushroom cloud of fire. But he alone among his compadres knows this happened, so the rest of the movie is spent with Travolta trying to hide the fact that the Del Fuegos are likely to catch up to the Hogs and humiliate/kill them. Eventually, in a small town further along the road, where the shy Macy is falling for a waitress played by Marisa Tomei (my crush on her survived this movie, so I know it’s real love), the gangs do square off. It’s a storyline that could have been quirky and funny and even a bit charming if the script wasn’t such a crushing bore and if at least two of the Hogs were played by actors with a remaining glimmer of humanity.

(Warning: This paragraph contains a spoiler of sorts, as if anyone could possibly give a damn.) Near the movie’s end, Peter Fonda shows up in a cameo, as Liotta’s father, to preach some kind of moral and, of course, for a cheap faux-echo of Easy Rider. It’s official: Our culture has cannibalized itself and is gnawing on the bones. I see that you can also catch Fonda in Ghost Rider these days. I hope they remember to include his dignity in next year’s “In Memoriam” montage at the Oscars.

In one sense, even though Wild Hogs falls well short of civilized standards of entertainment, it could have been worse. In one early scene, Lawrence, who plays a plumber with dreams of a career writing how-to books, is called to a gas station, where the cashier points to the men’s room and opines that a trucker must have “crapped a whole cow in there.” As Lawrence slowly makes his way toward the door, a gross and painfully unfunny gag feels imminent, but the audience is spared the sight. So in the mind-numbingly juvenile visual era ushered in by the Farrelly brothers (which, with any luck, reached its apotheosis with Date Movie), at least Wild Hogs mostly steers clear of the scatological.

Unfortunately, that faint, faint praise (“Wild Hogs doesn’t play in shit!” — Pajiba) is more than canceled out by the one element of the movie that will stay with me: a raging, undisguised homophobia. Its treatment of gay characters would make Tim Hardaway blush.

And if an ex-jock like Hardaway gets pilloried for his recent comments, why can’t cable news spend a week grilling Brad Copeland, the writer of this dreck? He’s written for “Arrested Development” and “News Radio,” so presumably he has most of his higher brain functions, but you wouldn’t know it from this. Several extended scenes revolve around our heroes not wanting to be mistaken for homosexuals. At least two actors with funny moments in their past — John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”) and Kyle Gass (“Tenacious D”) — stoop to cameos that are broad, one-note jokes. The joke? They’re gay.

Kevin Durand plays Red, a muscular, tattooed, bald Del Fuego, who’s apparently most menacing because he leers at men. He makes a comment about balls, and Liotta, taking offense, turns and brutally punches him in the face. I’m not normally a P.C. cop. In fact, I strongly believe that everyone’s fair game for a laugh. But no other group in the movie gets anything approaching such treatment (Macy’s even shouted down just for mentioning “black jokes”), and when homosexuals get beat up and worse in the real world, it’s not much fun seeing them proudly singled out on the screen for ridicule and pain. If it was one scene, you could maybe dismiss it as tacky, but the lampooning hatred runs clear throughout the movie. In fact, it’s the most consistent theme by far, and it’s disgusting.

In one scene, Red looks Lawrence up and down. Martin asks the other Hogs if they have a “pre-rape feeling.” I had a post-rape feeling, actually, from when I had handed over $11 in exchange for my ticket.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s an editor at Harper Perennial and a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

It'll Make You Squeal Like a Pig

Wild Hogs / John Williams

Film | March 2, 2007 |

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