The unrelenting roadkill joys of “Wild Hogs”
Two movies. Two packed theaters. Both movies are low-ball comedies featuring big movie stars. Both films elicit constant and thunderous response from their respective approving audiences. Both films are wildly successful at the box office. One film, last year’s “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby” relies on jokes that come at the expense of rednecks, so-called “trailer trash,” and the elderly– utilizing about every southern-fried stereotype in the process.
Substantively different in theme only, “Wild Hogs” bases its rudimentary humor on over-the-hill jabs while depending in large measure on a homophobic attitude to elicit laughs. Despite their common objectives, target market, and dumbed-downed methods, “Talladega Nights” got a generally favorable response from critics, while “Wild Hogs” is being summarily (and venomously) bludgeoned by many of the same critics.
It goes to show, there’s a thin line between love and hate. What’s offensive to some is hilarious to others. Could it be as simple as presuming that, insofar as movies are concerned, redneck satire is fair game but gay jokes are taboo?
This type of introspection is likely too deep, and irrelevant. The fact is, “Wild Hogs” is an average moviegoer crowd pleaser. It capitalizes on the ever increasing popularity of middle-aged Harley-Davidson riders, and brings together several well-liked movie veterans.
John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy are four aging friends whose lives could all use an infusion of youthful adventure. Get them on Harleys decked out in appropriate biker attire and cue up the classic rock music.
What initially seems to be nothing more than an excuse to showcase the lame whining of unsympathetic caricatures turns into a comic free-for-all of decent sight gags, a few surprisingly well choreographed road-trip sketches, and acting on a level unusual for this type of comedy.
Travolta is over-the-top but charismatic nonetheless, Lawrence hasn’t ever had material this decent (which says a lot about his forgettable film career), and Allen, who is pigeon-holed as the same guy in all of his movies, doesn’t have to carry the film. Not surprisingly, the real revelation is Macy’s turn as the sensitive computer nerd with the Apple logo tattoo. Along with Ray Liotta as the rival gang baddie, and Marisa Tomei as the small town love interest, “Wild Hogs” displays enough credible charm to prevent boredom.
The shotgun approach works here; keep the punch lines and sight gags coming and enough will get through to do some damage. The language is salty enough to give parents pause should any young people actually want to see these old farts in action.
Defending the childish antics in “Wild Hogs,” while criticizing “Talladega Nights” is like recommending a Big Mac over a Whopper. Neither one is particularly good for you, and you really can’t explain why one tastes better than the other.
To even bring up the subject of “taste” seems foolish.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and some violence.