Ride Hard or Stay Home: Wild Hogs at 10
I don’t believe there was a better year for fans of eating raw sticks of butter like hand fruits than 2007. I open that way because, when I think about Wild Hogs, I immediately go to a dinner scene near the beginning of the movie where Tim Allen, enjoying a meal with his family, has a complete and total mental break. It’s played for laughs, this grown man becoming so uncontrollably overwhelmed with how unsatisfied he is with life, he begins to self-destruct immediately in front of his family. He begins to chug straight from the gravy boat. He bites into a stick of butter like a banana. We then cut to Tim Allen in the hospital.
It’s this cry for help that makes Tim decide to join his friends, who have dubbed themselves 'The Wild Hogs', on a motorcycle trip to California. The goal: to reclaim their youth and outride the cold presence of death. Allen is joined by John Travolta and William H. Macy, who have been nominated for Oscars, and Martin Lawrence who I genuinely believed was dead until I started researching for this. Travolta comes up with the idea for the trip when his wife decides to leave him, and Lawrence joins in because he’s married to The Cliché Overbearing Housewife. William H. Macy is just a sad man with nothing else to do, and though that’s “mined” for “”comedy””, it only ever comes off deeply depressing. On their journey the Wild Hogs run afoul of biker gang, the Del Fuegos, and their leader Ray Liotta. Hijinks ensue, and maybe The Wild Hogs learn a thing or two about themselves and the true meaning of friendship along the way.
Wild Hogs is quintessentially early 2000s. It was actually released 10 years ago which makes it late 2000s, but it feels like it belongs right around the time FOX brought Family Guy back successfully. It’s fueled on obvious broad comedy, and wacky misunderstandings that are pretty much entirely about people The Wild Hogs encounter thinking they’re either a gay foursome or just serious creeps (but don’t worry, Wild Hogs isn’t shy about believing those too are synonymous). It’s a film about mid-life crises aimed at preteens and families, and the jokes reflect that bizarre, mismatched target audience.
I don’t want to just skip over how hilarious this movie thinks the idea of The Wild Hogs being gay is. The most relentless running joke is personified by John C. McGinley who plays a police officer that can’t stop running into The Wild Hogs when they’re in compromising situations. His first appearance, when he stumbles upon the four sharing a sleeping bag, is pushed to even further comedic heights when it turns out… he’s actually gay! He’s gay and he wants to fuck The Wild Hogs. That’s the joke. That’s a recurring joke in Wild Hogs.
No one actor is any worse than the others, but there’s also not one that at least carries some of the weight. When you get four leads together, all of which have led television shows or movies or are John goddamn Travolta, you’d expect that if the film had any saving grace it’d be there. Instead, somehow every single lead actor is just unpleasant to watch, and through a seriously twisted turn of events, John McGinley’s cop becomes the most likeable character. He is the embodiment of the movie’s most offensive and outdated (even for 2007) quality, and yet he’s more pleasant company than any of the four men driving the plot.
The most disheartening thing about Wild Hogs is that it was a financial success. It opened at number one at the box office, tripled competing opener Zodiac’s gross, and went on to reach over $150 million domestically. This means that chances are high you know someone that saw Wild Hogs in the theater. There were even plans for a sequel, god forbid, until John Travolta and Wild Hogs director Walt Becker reteamed for 2009 disaster Old Dogs and the studio executives woke up from whatever mysterious spell Becker cast on them. In fact, Old Dogs as a whole was such a mess Travolta was basically out of the public eye for nearly a decade until last year’s The People vs OJ Simpson.
I want to believe we live in a world where Wild Hogs couldn’t get made anymore. I want to believe in a world where four men skinny-dipping, only to be dropped in on by a homosexual who thinks it’s a sexually motivated act, couldn’t be a huge comedic set-piece. I want to believe in a world where Tim Allen wouldn’t eat all that butter. I want to believe that Hollywood’s modern day sequel/reboot culture won’t stir up something evil, and one day I’ll turn on my computer to see a poster for Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride. But this is a genuine fear I have. It’s scary, because nothing would show us setting back the societal clock more than a renewed cultural interest in Wild Hogs. If we ever return to the pinnacle of lowest common denominator, homophobia-driven broad comedy, that’s how we know we’ve let something go way too far.