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'Wild Hogs' stuck in first gear

Paunchy suburbanites hit the road, but too many speed bumps slow the comic pace.

March 02, 2007|Sam Adams | Special to The Times

The open road ain't what it used to be. From Horace Greeley to "Little Miss Sunshine," Americans have been finding themselves on the journey west, seeking uncharted territory they can call their own. But the landscape of "Wild Hogs" is cluttered with the comic equivalent of suburban sprawl, an endless cyclorama of rehashed jokes and whiny complaint.

A reformed party animal with a neurotic wife and a disdainful teen son, Doug (Tim Allen) is smothering in his suburban straitjacket. Ditto his high school buddies: Bobby (Martin Lawrence), a henpecked househusband whose wife treats him like a disobedient pup, and Dudley (William H. Macy), a high-strung computer geek whose attempts to interface with the opposite sex inevitably end in a catastrophic crash. Woody (John Travolta) would seem to have struck it rich, but it seems his supermodel wife is in the process of divorcing him, taking what's left of his money with her.

For years, these weekend warriors have burnished their masculinity with periodic spins on their barely used motorcycles, but their synchronized midlife crises dictate a more radical change of scenery: a real-life road trip from Cincinnati to the coast, complete with fatty foods and more male bonding than you can shake an Allen wrench at.

Lest the spectacle of four leather-clad men sleeping under the stars start to seem a little, well, Freudian, "Wild Hogs" provides a constant stream of opportunities for these uneasy riders to demonstrate their heterosexuality. The innuendoes of a buff motorcycle cop (John C. McGinley) provoke a fit of panicked crotch-clutching, and when they're confronted by a gang of real-life bikers, Bobby says with a shudder, "Does anyone else get that pre-rape feeling?"

The filmmakers needn't have worried, since evidence of intimacy among the men is in short supply. Apart from Macy, who cannily underplays his gawky nebbish, the movie's leads are palpably incapable of sharing scenes with each other. They act as if they're in different movies, and given the movie's tendency to strand them in isolating close-ups, they might as well be. There's no sense that these men have known each other for days, let alone decades.

Desperately needing an antagonist to provide them with a sense of purpose, the fumbling foursome run afoul of the Del Fuegos, a band of outlaw bikers headed by Ray Liotta's tattooed snarler. Soon enough, there's a small town to defend from the Del Fuegos' bad intentions, complete with a comely diner owner (Marisa Tomei) who takes a shine to Dudley and a well-meaning but inept sheriff (Stephen Tobolowsky) who desperately needs the help of a few good men. Or, in a pinch, a few paunchy, punchy suburbanites with nothing to lose but their last shreds of dignity.

By the time it sputters across the finish line, "Wild Hogs" feels as if it's gone on forever -- like a trip in a hot car with the windows rolled up. The air is stale and hard to breathe, and it sure feels good when it's over.

"Wild Hogs." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and some violence. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In general release.

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