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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Toy Story 3

Leave it to Pixar Studios to deliver one of the year’s best films in June.  “Toy Story 3” enters the summer arena and livens up screens, delivering as a sequel that can entertain audiences of all ages.

The Toy Story canon kickstarted Pixar and full-on CGI animation back in 1995.  Fifteen years later, the franchise still has juice, as kids that loved the original are now potentially parents taking their little ones to the multiplex.  They should be pleased.  “3” doesn’t just capitalize on a popular title as the last two Shrek sequels have done, but it follows a palpable storyline and takes the series in a logical direction to a fitting conclusion.

Young little Andy isn’t so young and little anymore.  He’s a high-school graduate off to start a new chapter in college.  In the process of cleaning out his bedroom, he is forced to decide what to do with his childhood toys.  His mother says to bag them up for storage in the attic or toss them in the trash.  Most of the gang (including Buzz, Rex, Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead, Ham, etc.) get bagged up for the attic, while Andy decides to keep his favorite toy, Woody.  Due to a misunderstanding, Andy’s mother assumes the bagged up toys are headed for the trash.  Woody makes a last ditch effort to save them, and the toys escape the garbage truck and land themselves in a box of used toys headed for Sunnyside Daycare.  Upon arrival, the toys believe they have found the perfect paradise to find affection and purpose from children all day long, while Woody has his doubts and begs his friends to head back to Andy’s.  The gang makes the decision to stay, and Woody is left on his own.  Soon enough, the toys realize they are meager pawns for destructive toddlers to torment.  Looking to escape, the the group faces opposition from a soul-scarred purple bear named Lotso who has taken control of Sunnyside and will not allow the new toys to leave.  Woody gets word of how destructive and enslaving his friends’ situation has become, and plans a rescue mission to save them.

Following in the footsteps of the previous “Toy Story” films, the final installment stands just about as classic, but probably for different reasons than one might expect.  The plot actually heads into some very dark and dramatic territory as issues of abandonment, imprisonment, purpose and demise culminate the proceedings.  Where the first two films may have been a little more lighthearted and comedy-driven, “Toy Story 3”, while still having its humor, actually builds out of heartbreak, stirred emotion, and a lot of suspense.  In some ways, I was surprised this secured a G-rating.  Pixar’s creative team of writers have recently excelled at exploring deeper thematic material in brilliant ways.  I think of man’s destruction of Earth in ‘Wall-E’ to the loss of a significant other in ‘Up.’  “Toy Story 3” continues that trend.  The film is smart enough for adults and entertaining enough for kids.  Luckily, the entire cast of voice actors return and bring back these characters we all know and love.  Forget the 3D, it’s not necessary.  See “Toy Story 3” for its brilliant writing, its comedic value, its dramatic nature, and its expert animation.

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