Thursday, 12 April 2007

Wild Hogs (2007)

John Travolta's mid-life crisis sees him testing his stand-up comic skills on actual stand-up comics

Wild Hogs is a mashup of the mid-life crisis comedy and the road trip comedy. Nearing the dreaded age where hair begins to thin, cholesterol levels need to be watched, careers lose their upward movement, and children and spouse either detest you or treat you with genial irrelevance, 4 college buddies react to their mid-life crisis by organising one last hurrah to recapture the glory days of their youth, where they were known as hellraisers instead of boring middle class men. So when 4 aging, out of shape men don their leather jackets, put on their sunglasses, and ride off into the sunset on their Harley Davidsons, it's not exactly a fairytale ending but the beginning of a promising comedy, like a Don Quixote on motorcycles. Except that Don Quixote thought he was a real knight, and they're pretending to be real cool bikers.

With such a premise, the optimal game plan for Wild Hogs would consist of two simultaneous strategies - there should be a standard fish out of water scenario with the 4 wannabe bikers coming up against ordinary challenges of road trips (like roughing it out, outdoors camping, the infrequent change of clothing, bathing...) and failing miserably, and another scenario where the pretendsters meet the real deal and gets into an escalating (but hilariously one-sided, of course!) rivalry with the mean outlaw biker gang. This is pure comedy gold if done right.

I'm happy to say that for the most part, the potential of the premise is realised in the movie itself. The weaker jokes are in the second act where the 4 wannabes fail at outdoors living, but once they meet the Del Fuegos, a very nasty extortionist biker gang, the jokes and laughs from escalating war between the pretendsters and the real bikers begin to kick in and build up to a hilarious payoff - a showdown brawl at a sleepy desert town (of course). However, the sting of the second scenario has been severely blunted, mostly by the Hells Angels lawsuit against Disney prohibiting the use of their name and logo in this movie. I mean, the funniest point of this comedy has to be that the biker culture that the 4 middle-aged wannabes base their romantic wanderings on do not exist, that the real bikers - the Hells Angels in the original script of Wild Hogs - exist in real life as drug dealers, smugglers, extortionists and gangsters, and violent ruffians. With that insight dulled to the point of practically taking it out, the comedy in this movie becomes a little too pedestrian.

That the script is a little too pedestrian may be the sole imperfection of Wild Hogs. Ignoring the forced change of Hells Angels to Del Fuegos in the movie, the script botches the first (but thankfully short) act, which begins the story by explaining how each of the 4 wannabes decide to go on their one last road outing. It's an entirely conventional way of telling the story (but imagine if the movie opened with all 4 already on the road trip... and failing it as bikers!), but what's not very acceptable is that fact the introductions aren't at all convincing audiences that our middle class heroes would actually take the plunge, and that the setting up of the classic middle class types (nerd, doctor, alpha dog, henpecked husband) is somewhat painful. Jokes-wise, situational comedy and physical comedy pay off more than the verbal jokes, while William H Macy steals the movie with his perfect timing and hangdog expressions, and appears to be a superior comedian than Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence, while John Travolta is... well, I'm happy to see Travolta hamming it up with a bunch of comedians.

Wild Hogs takes a little time to warm up its comedy engine, but once it gets there, it will deliver the laughs.

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2007

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