Male menopause spews a lot of exhaust in “Wild Hogs,” a high-concept middlebrow comedy with Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy as staid suburbanites who decide to discover America a la “Easy Rider.” Peter Fonda actually turns up in the closing reel, yet one suspects fictive Captain America is spinning somewhere in his off-highway grave. Uninspired script and broad slapstick yuks won’t earn this any plaudits, but slick, safe package should do OK with North American mall auds. Offshore appeal is likely to be weaker, though ancillary action in most territories will be solid.
Stars portray upper-middle-class weekend warriors who straddle rumbling steel and cruise Cincinnati streets (with the “Wild Hogs” moniker sewn onto their leather jackets by one indulgent wife) in a weekly display of ersatz outlawdom.
But they’re more Mild Ones than Wild Ones. Bobby (Lawrence) is a henpecked plumber working on a self-help book, Doug (Allen) a dentist dissed as lame by his own pubescent son, and computer programmer Dudley (Macy) is a cloddish bachelor too shy to approach women. High-flying investor Woody (Travolta) appears to have it all, but his swimsuit-model trophy wife has left him, and he’s just been informed he’s bankrupt.
Eager to escape those problems (without disclosing them), Woody tells his buds they’ve lost collective edge and need a road trip to reclaim it. After minor finagling, they take off with no plan in mind beyond reaching the Pacific. It doesn’t take them long to blunder into a “real biker bar,” where they run afoul of a gang called Del Fuegos, headed by Jack (Ray Liotta) and musclehead second-in-command Red (Kevin Durand, aka standup comic Tree).
Woody semi-accidentally ensures their exit will enrage Del Fuegos to a boilover degree. This affront pinions the Wild Hogs once they’ve run out of gas in a remote desert hamlet, where Dudley falls for Marisa Tomei’s diner proprietress.
Inevitable showdown finds the little guys that could standing up to the bad guys, while grateful all-American townsfolk cheer on. Fonda plays a key part in Del Fuegos’ unlikely, shamed slink-away after they’ve proved themselves bullies and louts. (Incredibly, the screenplay originally identified the meanies as Hell’s Angels, until the real ones sued Disney. Who’d have thought they’d object to being portrayed as stock Neanderthal bullies?)
In place of the usual not-so-funny bloopers, the final credits scroll instead offers unfunny mock scenes from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” complete with host Ty Pennington.
Pic reps the third feature from Walt Becker, who helmed the 2002 sleeper hit “Van Wilder” and “Buying the Cow” (which he co-wrote), a lively romantic comedy that went straight to home screens and was marred by homophobic humor.
Though Becker didn’t write “Hogs,” its early progress is similarly angled, with much “ewww!” mileage eked from the ways in which Macy’s sensitive-guy nature sometimes make him seem “gay,” plus a randy cop (“Scrubs’ ” John C. McGinley) who misreads the traveling male quartet’s bond. Studio product once ridiculed homosexuals outright — now it goes the more insidious route of milking the straight characters’ “hilarious” revulsion whenever they come in contact with or are mistaken for gay people.
Given his writer-producer credits on good-to-great recent sitcoms (“My Name Is Earl,” “Arrested Development,” “Grounded for Life”), one might expect more situational wit, or at least some snappy patter, from Brad Copeland’s first bigscreen script. Instead, the humor rests primarily on slapstick wipeouts that have no physical consequence, as well as de rigeur crotch kicks and pee-pee/ca-ca stuff.
No players are seen to their best advantage (Liotta and Tomei seem especially nonplussed), though Travolta has amusing moments of bogus bravado.
Presentation is polished and pacey enough, with America (the U.S., that is) looking duly worth discovering for the scenic splendors backdropped in Robbie Greenberg’s widescreen lensing. Soundtrack makes predictable use of retro party anthems by Grand Funk Railroad, Foghat, AC/DC and others.