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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wild Hogs

Okay, it sounds obvious, but I’ll say it. I’m wild for Wild Hogs. I didn’t expect to like it. After all, I’m of a certain age, and I don’t need to see a movie to be reminded that I, like the guys in Wild Hogs, am middle-aged and in need of something to perk up my otherwise routine rut of a life. Of course, in the case of Wild Hogs, you’ve got John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy as the quartet of men that come crashing into the realization that they are suddenly no longer in their youthful prime, so their collective middle-life crisis is a lot better funded and funnier than most. Thank goodness. Who’d want to see my midlife crisis on film? It’s all fretting over spider veins, unwanted hot flashes and irregularity. That’s not the stuff of entertainment, unless you are a employee of a maximum security nursing home and enjoy making light of bedsores, but then that’s probably a fate I’ll come to face soon enough without dwelling on it now. I’d rather think of Wild Hogs at the moment, thank you very much.

These boys are a hoot. As we see in the opening minutes of the film, all four men are the quintessential representations of what every man prays won’t happen to him by age 50. Travolta’s Woody finds himself penniless and dumped by an unseen supermodel wife who has kept him living
the good life for years; Allen’s Doug is a suburban dentist with a son who barely acknowledges him and a wife who is practically packing his bags to get him out of their marriage lull by having him doing something different for a change. Meanwhile there is Lawrence’s sad-sack Bobby, so hen-pecked you practically expect him to have open wounds, and finally there is Macy’s Dudley, aptly named since he is an unmarried “dud” when it comes to women, barely able to utter his name in their presence. How these four became such tight friends is not fully explained other than a brief reference to Doug and Woody having been in college together, but the story of how these disparate friendships began and endured would certainly make for an interesting story of its own because there has seldom been a sillier and more miss-matched bunch of bikers.

Even without that back-story, this adventure is a rollicking good time as the four friends decide for no apparent reason other than to do it to go from their homes in Cincinnati on a motorcycle trip to the Pacific Ocean, chucking their lives, their cell phones, their GPS devices and their inhibitions to rediscover the “inner hogs” that they can only find on their bikes.

Along the way, of course, they find all kinds of hysterical adventures and misadventures, including a couple of gut-busting encounters with a way-too-friendly cop played by “Scrubs” favorite John C. McGinley. The writing in these scenes is so clever it will have you not just thinking about it later, but you’ll be pondering how screenwriter Brad Copeland (a seasoned pro from tv’s “Arrested Development” and “My Name is Earl” which explains a lot) managed such wickedly perfect dialogue, constructed in such a way that everything could, can, and is misconstrued as downright naughty if your mind is in such a place, and it is meant to be.

The bigger story, however, involves the group’s run-in with a real biker gang, the Del Fuegos, a hard-ass bunch of scary, tattooed hellions led by Jack (Ray Liotta; Smokin’ Aces), a psycho sadist who thinks it is his calling in life to root out “poser” bikers from the “real” thing and run them back home to their wives. His plans to do so to the
Wild Hogs might have worked and ended with just a simple one-time encounter if not for Woody’s need to get some payback for their humiliation at Jack’s hands. Unfortunately, Woody’s return to the Del Fuego’s hangout ends up with a BIG “oops” and thanks to his mistake he sends the Del Fuegos on the warpath and straight to the peaceful little town of Madrid, where the Wild Hogs have ended up spending the weekend.

Can you guess that a showdown is inevitable? Shades of High Noon or To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. (I’ll bet that’s the first time in history those two have ever been referenced in any context as converging in a similar theme in another film, but, trust me, Wild Hogs is a little bit of both but without the drag queens, although Dudley does seem a tad fey if you ask me, which you didn’t).

Keep a lookout for Kevin Durand (also of Smokin’ Aces) as the creepy/dim-witted punching bag sidekick of Ray’s. He may not have center stage, but he guarantees laugh-out-loud responses every time he opens his mouth. Marisa Tomei (Factorum) is also sweet as local gal Maggie who
becomes the object of Dudley’s affections. While she hardly shows that she deserves that Oscar she owns, she does a good job projecting that “Aw-shucks” small town girl persona which is a far cry from the 40-something Brooklyn-bred New Yorker she really is. I guess that’s what acting’s all about. And you’re also bound to recognize Stephen Tobolowsky (Failure to Launch) as Charley, the local sheriff. Tobolowsky has been in hundreds of television shows and movies, even spawning a film about himself
Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party, since he is one of those Hollywood insiders with the face everyone knows and the name nobody outside of the business does. In our house he is better known as “Ned, Ned Ryerson” the ubiquitous greeting he offers to Bill Murray every time he meets him in the do-over comedy Groundhog Day. Hmm. More hogs.

Travolta surprised me by actually being funny as he breaks down in semi-silence, not wanting to confess what he has done to incite the Del Fuegos to his fellow Hogs, but suffering as he anticipates their possible retribution should they catch up to the guys. I’ve never thought Travolta was much of a comedian, but he made me laugh out loud several times here, which is better than his “professional comedian” counterpart Tim Allen manages. For some reason, Allen seems the least funny of the four, seeming to be the most subdued of the foursome. Lawrence, on the other
hand, can make me laugh just by looking into the camera. He is simply funny by nature, and even though he doesn’t have the best material here, he rings the bits he is given for every laugh without making it look like he’s working at it. The biggest winner of the four main principals though is William H. Macy. Macy is not someone I immediately think of when the subject of comedy comes to mind, especially since he is usually referenced for his award winning work in either tv’s “Door to Door” or the big screen’s Seabiscuit, but if my memory was half as wide as my rear-end then it would be a lot easier for me to quickly recall his terrific work in Fargo, where, in 1996, he etched the indelibly perfect character of Jerry Lundegaard, an archetypical version of the dumb would-be white collar criminal. Here, Macy generates sweetness, nerdiness, courage, clumsiness and at least a dozen other layers of characterization his co-stars haven’t even considered. It clearly distinguishes him from the pack as being the “actor” rather than the “comedian” of the bunch, and yet he also ends up the funniest. Poor Travolta. He gets laughs, but he doesn’t appear to be much of an actor. Perhaps we’ll see better when he gets in a dress for Hairspray later this year. Oh wait! There’s the “drag queen” connection. Maybe John was wearing his bra under his Wild Hogs costume. God knows, after seeing the “swimming hole” scenes it is obvious that both he and Allen could easily use at least some ‘A’ cup support from the mansierre at this point, but I digress.

Wild Hogs is wildly entertaining. It’s got more laughs per minute than anything so far this year, and definitely worth a trip to the Essex Cinemas for a couple of hours of fun. It’s a great “couples” movie too, because it’s funny and fast and you’ll both leave feeling better than when you went in. What more could a person ask for?

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