Ah, the thrill of the open road. The wind in your hair. The smell of asphalt. And the paunchy, aging baby-boomers zipping past on Harleys, sporting black leather duds in a desperate attempt to recapture their youth.
But wait a minute. These aren't just any mid-life-crisis casualties. They're Stars with a capital S - Oscar-nominated John Travolta and William H. Macy, 1990s sitcom gods Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence - and they're here to draw big paychecks in a dumb but amiable comedy that mocks male insecurities. (For a dose of estrogen, i.e., a love interest, actual Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is also in the mix.)
The film opens with a shot of the four "Wild Hogs" seated high on their rigs, roaring through a peaceful Cincinnati suburb. No, they're not going to terrorize the squares who live here - they are the squares. The gang logo on the back of their jackets was stitched by one of their wives. They ride their bikes in parades featuring majorettes, and talk spas and investments with the bartender at their favorite "biker joint." In short, as Woody (Travolta), the testiest Hog, complains, "We're more like wild lambs."
He's the one who comes up with the idea: If the Hogs take their hogs on the open road, heading for the Pacific, maybe they can reclaim the daredevil thrill of youth. The road trip will be "St. Elmo's Fire. The Wild Bunch. Deliverance!" Woody enthuses, making his friends gulp and exchange glances. "Deliverance?" Hogging out is one thing, but nobody wants to squeal like a pig.
Yuppie prudence struggles with biker bravado in this foursome, and their predictable losses of nerve fuel the movie's comedy. Each man has his personal demons to tackle. Doug (Allen) is a dull dentist whose son forsakes him to play ball with the "cool" dad down the street. Bobby (Lawrence) has a job cleaning people's toilets and a wife who barks at him like a drill sergeant. Dudley (Macy) is a geek who's scared to even talk to a woman. And Woody has it all - fat investment portfolio, supermodel wife - but is on the verge of losing it.
While it's hard to fathom how these mismatched guys became best friends, they offer a predictable recipe for a buddy comedy. When the Hogs reach New Mexico and run afoul of a gang of "real" bikers, all the ingredients are in place. As the head of the Del Fuegos, Ray Liotta pretty much reprises his 1986 breakthrough role in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild: a badass who scares the crap out of yuppies trying to walk on the wild side. All that's changed is his paunch.
The movie's gags are nothing new. Macy takes regular falls from his bike that start out unfunny and get tedious. Tired gay innuendos abound, as the Hogs are mistaken for a male-bonding session of the Brokeback Mountain variety. But the script by Brad Copeland, who's written for above-average sitcoms such as "Arrested Development," includes a few decent lines. They're best delivered by Macy, who's deliciously weird talking about his "poop bag" - no polluting the wilderness for him - or warning a dance partner, "The music moves me, but it moves me ugly."
The movie is structured like a sitcom episode - everybody gets life lessons, with serious music to underline the moment. Peter Fonda shows up to supply the obligatory allusion to Easy Rider, and it's hard to fault the movie's carpe-diem-but-live-and-let-live message. But wild? No way.