"Two and a half stars (PG-13)
I saw Wild Hogs, a comedy starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy, last Saturday night at the AMC Greenwood Park multiplex. Despite a combination of freezing rain and snow that caused some cars to spin out on U.S. 31, the advance screening was a sell-out. The crowd laughed hard through most of the movie, so loud that some of the subsequent dialogue could not be heard, and there was a fair amount of applause at the end.
Wild Hogs, a story from Disney’s Touchstone Pictures about the misadventures of four middle-age men who go on a cross-country motorcycle trip, was designed to be a crowd-pleaser. With a roster of well-liked actors and an amusing premise, this is one of those productions that gets dubbed “critic-proof.”
So be it and have a ball, but I’m still going to do my job, which in this case includes a considerable amount of complaining. To those of you who wonder about the gap between critics and audiences on mainstream films, let me offer a brief explanation. Regular people go to movies like this intending to have a good time. They’ve spent good money and want to be pleased with their purchase, so they look for the positive. Critics, however, go to movies to study them and report on their findings. And what they find is often negative.
I laughed at Wild Hogs, though not as much as the rest of the crowd. I was distracted by the annoyingly cutesy music inserted early in the film to underline the comedy. I was disappointed to see that Tim Allen, John Travolta and Martin Lawrence were given one-note parts. Thankfully, William H. Macy, the designated nerd of the group, has a ball getting a chance to do comedy for a change (not to mention wooing Marisa Tomei), and his spirited performance is a pleasure. Mostly, I was irritated by Brad Copeland’s screenplay, which starts off fine but goes south quickly, both in its situations and jokes.
Copeland seems to find gay panic particularly amusing. The boys sleep out in the open after their tent is destroyed and Macy drapes his arm over Travolta. A cop discovers the men and assumes they’re gay. Turns out the cop, played with vigor by John C. McGinley of Scrubs, actually is gay and wants in on the perceived action. Later, at a small-town festival, the camera repeatedly fixates on a mildly-effeminate male karaoke singer whose performance isn’t funny the first time, let alone the third.
What do you straight folks think? Do gags like those amuse you, or do you find them as tiresome and off-putting as this gay critic does?
The storyline is similarly lazy. The middle-class foursome run afowl of a nasty group of hard-core bikers, led by Ray Liotta (in full Something Wild mode), which is rife with possibilities, but the big showdown is stupid and belabored, resolved by a deus ex machina involving a biker icon.
Bottom line: If you go to Wild Hogs intending to have fun, you likely will. But if you look at it with a critical eye, even just a little bit, you won’t laugh nearly as much.