The uninspired male-midlife comedy "Wild Hogs"has two terrific performers. Everyone else -- including the screenwriter and the director -- just phonedit in.
"Wild Hogs" is the lowest comedy denominator, but the very fact that it's so straightforward, routine and undemanding will probably make it a huge hit. Too bad. If "Wild Hogs" went hog wild into comic anarchy -- heck, even creativity -- it might have been worthy of its overqualified cast. As it stands, this weak effort will bring them sacks of money, but no respect.
For a film about cutting loose, "Wild Hogs" never aims for the road less traveled. The premise is a shameful "City Slickers" knockoff. John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy play Cincinnati friends who run from their assorted midlife crises on a motorcycle trip to California.
And well they may flee. The first three are married to slightly different flavors of the common sitcom shrew, while computer nerd Macy is so intimidated by women that he spills coffee on his laptop when he makes eye contact at a java joint. To underscore the point that the machine is fritzing out, the keyboard falls off, sparks fly and a cloud of gray smoke mushrooms from the case. It's that kind of a movie. Lighthearted music bustles under every scene, trying to turn substandard gags into convincing comic moments.
The men straddle their Harleys to recapture their sense of adventure on the open road. Their exploits are as insipid as the Mild Ones themselves. They encounter small annoyances (face-splattering bugs), minor embarrassments (John McGinley plays a fey highway patrolman who mistakes the quartet for gay bikers) and serious trouble (a real cycle gang led by Ray Liotta wants to stomp them). If you're a fan of finely drawn characters and quirky detail, there's little for you here.
The endearing Macy is the only actor to find any joy in the material; he even manages to sell his character's excitement about getting the Apple computer logo tattooed on his bicep, a shameless plug for Disney board member Steve Jobs' company. Macy gets a stammering shot at romance with small-town waitress Marisa Tomei, while his co-stars contribute broad physical comedy. That's just as well, since neither Allen nor Lawrence has much of a gift for characterization.
The staple of the humor is head-banging slapstick. Whenever the pace slackens -- boy howdy, it does that a lot -- you can count on Macy crashing his bike into something.
Oddly, most of the verbal jokes are gay-themed innuendo about Travolta's character. The film is trying to be funny, with cameos from proven talents including Steve Landesman, Steven Tobolowsky, the Sklar brothers and Jack Black's Tenacious D sidekick Kyle Gass, but they are undone with colorless material. The funniest performance comes from the snarling Liotta, who gives his lines an air of real menace. Everyone else appears to be on this ride to Dullsville strictly for the payday.