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What's the big deal?
Wild Hogs is a comedy film released in 2007 and was directed by Walt Becker. The film follows a group of middle-aged suburban men who decide to go on a road trip on their motorcycles and the various misfortunes that befall them. The film stars Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei and the late Ray Liotta. Harley-Davidson were heavily involved in the production of the film and loaned many bikes for filmmakers to use and customise for their respective characters. The film was not well received by critics but audiences didn't mind, pushing the film to a worldwide total of $253 million. Its success initially led to plans for a sequel but following the equally critical reviews of another Disney comedy Old Dogs (also starring Travolta and directed by Becker), plans were ultimately scrapped.
What's it about?
Woody, Bobby, Dudley and Doug are four long-time friends living in Cincinnati who have reached a certain point in their lives where they just aren't satisfied with their lot. Bobby is a plumber routinely disrespected by his wife and children, Dudley is a painfully shy computer programmer, Doug works as a dentist but has trouble bonding with his son and although Woody is a successful lawyer, his supermodel wife has just divorced him and left him practically bankrupt. Their only solace is their weekend biking trips together as the Wild Hogs, travelling together as they did in the old days.
Woody manages to convince the others to accompany him on a road trip to California so the four of them saddle up and head off. However, they run into a spot of trouble in New Mexico where they spot at a roadside bar belonging to a much larger biker gang, the outlawed Del Fuegos led by brutish thug Jack. After some misunderstanding between the Hogs and the Del Fuegos, the four of them incur the wrath of Jack and his boys and have to hit the road harder than ever to avoid becoming legitimate road kill...
What's to like?
Few people are going to call Wild Hogs a classic biker movie because it just isn't. But it does have some things going for it. Take the four leads, for example - even with a less renowned comic actor like Travolta, the four of them generate good chemistry and they all bring as much humour as they can to the film. I especially enjoyed Macy's tongue-tied geek who has a nice subplot involving Marisa Tomei's diner owner. As the film's sole antagonist, Liotta might not be exactly stretching his acting ability as the sneering baddie Jack but he certainly feels villainous enough for a lightweight comedy like this.
It's true that the film suffers from an uninspired script filled with stereotypical characters, lazy slapstick and an unconvincing narrative. But here's the thing: for all the film's faults, it somehow works in spite of itself. This is a simple comedy that doesn't have much in it to offend besides some coarse language and it's all played and pitched at the right amount of farce. Who cares if Travolta overacts as he does in most of his comic roles or if Allen underwhelms as the bland-as-brown-bread Doug? In truth, it doesn't matter all that much because the film has all the heavyweight gravitas of strawberry candyfloss. If you take it as such then you'll probably get the most out of this film.
- The script originally featured the Hells Angels in place of the Del Fuegos but due to a lawsuit from the biker gang, they were ultimately dropped and replaced by the fictional biker gang.
- The film features cameos from Easy Rider star Peter Fonda, Kyle Gass and two stars of the TV show American Chopper, Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. Orange County Choppers, the biking business founded by Teutul Sr, helped to customise the bikes including the one ridden by Liotta which bears the company logo.
- The set for Maggie's Diner in Madrid, New Mexico is still standing as the producers were asked to leave it after filming had finished. It has been converted to a souvenir shop selling merchandise for the film and the wider biking community. However, it has never once sold food.
What's not to like?
Wild Hogs has a number of flaws that makes life awkward for itself. Firstly, the humour is pretty basic and low-brow which is full of uninspired stereotypes like John C. McGinley's aggressively gay cop. There are no surprises or original ideas within the film and after a while, you slowly begins to realise that this isn't a film for anyone with high expectations. There is just no ambition to be found here as if director Becker was quite content to make a film and then worry about the quality of it much later. If you'd asked me to make a biker comedy then I suspect that my finished product would feel very similar to this film and I know nothing about how to make a movie.
I can tell when actors are hampered by a poor script, however. With characters about as memorable as their bikes, the cast struggle to make much of an impact despite their chemistry. At least Liotta is playing to type, sneering and growling his way through the film as if he can't wait for the end credits to roll either. The film is crying out for a touch of quality or finesse - certainly, the cast deserve better and are largely capable of being much funnier. But beyond some pretty locations and a dad-rock soundtrack that works for me, there really isn't much else to see here. It's not hugely funny or original but assuming you lower your expectations or have a low-brow sense of humour, this might tickle your pickle.
Should I watch it?
Much like a convoy of scooters on a summer's day, Wild Hogs quickly passes you by without making much of an impression but irritating you all the same. Mired in cliché and saddled with a witless script, the film flounders without much direction or idea of where it wants to go. Not even the big-name cast can conjure up much in the way of humour although I can't criticise them for trying as hard as they do. The film needed a lot of work on it - screenplay and characterisation especially - to be anything other than a series of uninspired comedic skits that sadly fail to set the screen alight.
Great For: anyone who hasn't seen a comedy before, bikers with access to a mute button, very undemanding comedy fans
Not So Great For: IQs above 90, middle-aged men, female viewers
What else should I watch?
Ever since Marlon Brando torn it up in 1953's iconic The Wild One, biking movies have struggled to escape from the B-movie fringes to return to the mainstream. Dennis Hopper's 1969 drama Easy Rider was a culmination of a number of B-movies released during the Sixties (The Wild Angels and The Glory Stompers, for example) and was a counter-culture milestone with a fantastic soundtrack. Legendary stuntman Evel Knievel jumped onto the silver screen with his own film Viva Knievel while 1979 gave us two all-time biking classics in the shape of Mel Gibson's post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max and British period drama Quadrophenia.
Before his surprise and tragic passing in 2022, Ray Liotta was synonymous with the Martin Scorsese biopic Goodfellas where Liotta was amazing as Henry Hill, a street kid from New York who rose through the ranks of the Mafia before turning snitch on them. Liotta's roles often featured men in a position of authority, usually cops, and benefitted from his ability to command attention from his co-stars and audience. Other career highlights include Sylvester Stallone's underrated drama Cop Land, crime thriller The Place Beyond The Pines (coincidentally, another decent biking film) and he's excellent in the criminally overlooked Narc, which may be a bit similar to the more better known Training Day but is just as good a film. He left us far too soon and with other great performances that will never now be seen. Rest in peace.
Dr Doug Madsen
William H. Macy
Release Date (UK)
13th April, 2007
Action, Adventure, Comedy
© 2022 Benjamin Cox