Vicious Cycle

Touchstone Pictures/MovieWeb

Salt Lake City Weekly | February 22, 2007
Let’s give Brad Copeland the benefit of the doubt. Sure, he’s the screenwriter of record for Wild Hogs, but the depressing, mutating path a screenplay can take from a writer’s word processor to your local multiplex has been well documented. Copeland boasts an impressive résumé as a television writer for smart comedies like My Name is Earl and Arrested Development, and maybe he was just understandably eager to get that first big-screen credit. Also, he’s working here with the director of National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. Let he among you who could avoid the perils of that hellish touch cast the first stone.

Still, somebody’s got to take the fall for something as boorish and nasty as Wild Hogs. It’s bad enough that it’s essentially a regurgitation of City Slickers—only with motorcycles instead of horses—but it’s also hard to recall a recent movie so desperate to convince you of its heterosexual bona fides. This movie hates gay people more than the Rev. Fred Phelps, Rick Santorum and Tim Hardaway put together.

Not that it shows considerably more affection for you, the unwitting audience member. The four suburban Cincinnati pals and motorcycle club comrades emerge mostly as carbon copies of City Slickers counterparts. Dentist Doug (Tim Allen) is the Billy Crystal part—the vaguely depressed nice guy with the improbably supportive wife (Jill Hennessy). Financier Woody (John Travolta) is the Bruno Kirby part—the angry, macho thrill-seeker. Plumber Bobby (Martin Lawrence) plays the henpecked equivalent of Daniel Stern. Along with Dudley (William H. Macy)—who, in a stroke of cliché-embracing, is a maladroit computer programmer who’s never had a girlfriend—the quartet hits the road to California, attempting to grab back some semblance of their vital younger selves from the jaws of middle-age. Or perhaps meet the ghost of Jack Palance.

You generally don’t expect more than an exercise in second-rate slapstick from something like this, and indeed there is plenty of that. Much of the pratfalling falls to Macy, who—in a vintage display of taking one for the team—is asked to tumble from his cycle on multiple occasions and utter sparkling bon mots like, “I’m okay; I hit my butt.” I suppose a veteran as talented as Macy deserves a payday as much as anyone, and he manages to find the few moments of humanity Wild Hogs has going for it as he tries to romance a diner owner (Marisa Tomei) in a small New Mexico town. If not for Macy—and Ray Liotta as a bike gang leader, displaying his “crazy face” in a way we haven’t seen since Something Wild—the film would be utterly irredeemable.

And as it stands, it’s still pretty loathsome. Massive stretches of Wild Hogs are devoted to the high comedy of a safely straight guy being presumed to be less testosterone-charged than a frat house. Hence a leering gay highway patrolman (John C. McGinley) making advances when he spots our protagonist sharing an inflatable campsite bed. And the same highway patrolman reappearing when the lads take an au naturel dip in a roadside waterfall pool. And Woody cringing when Dudley rides “bitch” (on the seat behind him) with his face nestled into Woody’s back. And a practice dance between Woody and Dudley ending abruptly when Woody feels something against his thigh that turns out to be a Swiss Army knife. And the bug-eyed references to Deliverance. Are you clutching your sides in homophobic hilarity yet?

And please, spare any suggestion that Wild Hogs is somehow having fun at the expense of these characters—laughing at them rather than expecting us to laugh along with their “Yikes, I’m no Mary” reaction takes. This is the kind of comedy that’s not just unfunny, but actively repugnant in its reactionary sensibilities. In the past Brad Copeland has shown his sense of humor to be subtler and smarter. Maybe here he was just an innocent bystander—or maybe his idea of “smart” this time around was counting on the American public’s voracious appetite for anything that treats homosexuality as a punch line.


* (one star out of four)

Starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence

Directed by Walt Becker

Rated PG-13

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