Wild Hogs

Wild HogsWild Hogs is based on a premise not unlike so many throwaway sitcoms: take a few ecclectic personalities, put them in a unique or singular situation, and watch the hilarity unfold. And like so many throwaway sitcoms, the concept actually has starts out well with some genuine sparks of creativity but quickly loses its way and gets mired in a hopeless rut of infantile scatalogical gags and cheap jokes for which someone clearly forgot to pen a punch line. The situation here is a road trip, and the characters are as generic as one could ask for: four middle-aged men longing to recapture their glory days after being faced with the clear revelation that their best years may have passed them by. This group of friends, who call themselves the Wild Hogs, used to be (or so we are told) something of a daring troupe of young firestarters. Having succumbed to the Hollywood faux-realities of suburban life, they decide one day to take a motorcycle trip to the coast with the wind at their backs and no rules or women to get in their way. (This being a Hollywood movie, the women in these men’s lives serve as little more than one-dimensional facades with bullet points of characterization: nag, berate, belittle your man.)

The meta-joke here is that the four guys are played by somewhat washed-up movie stars seeking, ostensibly, to recapture a bit of their former fame. John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy, who seem just as out of place and uncomfortable in leather jackets and do-rags as one could imagine, do their best to act like lifelong buddies when it’s pretty clear they all just showed up to flash a grin and collect a paycheck. Nevertheless, they do form an entertaining bunch of buds, and Allen and Lawrence riff on each other with at least a shadow of the biting wit and sarcasm on which they built their careers more than a decade ago. Travolta must have thought he was filming Face/Off Part 2, as he spends most of the movie acting like an over-the-top Nicolas Cage. And that’s saying something.  We are supposed to believe the Wild Hogs are a close-knit group of lifelong friends, but the chemistry just isn’t there.  Instead they seem like a group of four guys who are getting paid to act as if they are lifelong friends.  Oh, wait.

Wild Hogs: Tim Allen

"This one time on Home Improvement, Jill was mad at me so I got advice from Wilson. And then I made fun of Al's mom!"

Once they shrug off the chains of women, kids, jobs, and escape from the seventh level of hades known in Hollywood as “marriage,” they find themselves careening down the highway without any worries, cares, or cell phones in order to recapture a bit of the good ol’ days.  But sure enough, things get out of hand pretty quickly as they encounter overbearing policemen, tent fires, and a paint-by-numbers motorcycle gang called the Del Fuegos who does not suffer posers gladly.  It’s too bad that the road trip has so many missed opportunities, as this type of setup is essentially a blank canvas for which to create any number of potentially funny situations.  But rather than trying to be creative or interesting, the movie races straight to junior-high humor and stays there.  We are treated to gags about bodily fluids, mishaps with wild animals, and a scene in which the guys decide to go skinny dipping in a hot spring only to be interrupted by (who else?) an unsuspecting vacationing family (oh the hilarity!).  Of all the possibilities afforded by the road trip setup and the four talented actors on display here, we instead get poop jokes and gay cops.

Something resembling a conflict enters the mix when the Wild Hogs set out to save a small town from the terrorizing throes of the  Del Fuegos and their schoolyard bully leader Jack (Ray Liotta).  Dudley (William H. Macy) also finds himself a love interest named Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who runs the local diner and could sure use a biker in shining leather to save her from the mean Del Fuego men.  Like the rest of the movie, it’s a by-the-book setup that plays out exactly how you think it will, which is again kind of sad given the sheer number of missed opportunities to be truly creative.  And despite good performances from Allen, Lawrence, and Liotta, there is very little here to recommend to anyone.


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Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)

The Taking of Pelham 123

the-taking-of-pelham-1-2-3Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day’s work for dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) into a face-off with the mastermind (John Travolta) behind the crime (IMDB).

Tony Scott’s attempt at remaking 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” surprisingly fails, when in reality with all this talent involved, it should be sizzling. Not that there’s much you can do to improve the other classic film, but giving it a modern spin with scenery chewing actors like Denzel Washington and John Travolta should be one of the most exciting films of the year. Not to be. Scott’s infamous MTV editing that overwhelmed “Man on Fire” and “Domino” is on display here once again, the dialogue is trashy, and the director also seems to have little faith in the suspense of the story. Truthfully there isn’t much, unlike the original, and so Scott splices some ridiculous crash sequences (which really feel quite stupid) in between Travolta’s rantings.

That brings up Travolta, a talented actor and sometimes entertaining villain (Face/Off, Broken Arrow) and other times not so much (Swordfish). But what seems a perfect vehicle for him, turns out to be one of his most ham-fisted performances in quite some time. His constantly whiny bad guy, Ryder, seems to lack any shred of intelligence, and his dialogue in this thing is often unbelievably campy. While Denzel Washington has a settled in, humbled performance that doesn’t require much, Travolta is rather hilarious and doesn’t play well in generating any tense moments.

This new “Pelham” is not the wild ride and sparring match-up it should have been. I typically like Tony Scott’s work (True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Spy Game) and even much of his maligned work (Man on Fire, Domino, Deja Vu). But “Pelham 123” is a ludicrous bore that has none of the suspense of the original, and wants to be a popcorn actioner when it should be an intense thriller. A major disappointment. I encourage anyone interested in this film to check out the original film first.

-MJV & the Movies

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Rating: 3.0/5 (3 votes cast)