Every once in a while, I have a moviegoing experience where I end up feeling completely removed from the rest of the audience. Seeing 'Wild Hogs' on in the theater earlier this year -- on opening night, no less -- was one such experience. While everyone else around me was laughing hysterically, finding every lame joke and warmed-over sight gag side-splittingly funny, I sat there dumbfounded. Simply put, I just didn't "get it."
Needless to say, with such an unpleasant taste still fresh in my mouth, I wasn't exactly relishing the opportunity to revisit 'Wild Hogs' yet again for this Blu-ray review. But considering the film's ultimate $150 million-plus domestic gross at the box office, I was determined to give it another chance. Maybe it really wasn't so bad after all...
First, the plot. A quartet of fifty-something, gas-guzzling wannabe-bikers (John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence) are each in the throws of a major late-life crisis. They've achieved the epitome of the working-class American dream (good jobs, fat bank accounts, beautiful wives and loving children), but they've come to yearn for deeper meaning and -- dare I say it -- some kind of spiritual awakening. So, in great Hollywood high-concept fashion, they decide to head on down to New Mexico on their bikes, and live out their youthful fantasies of masculinity one last time before senility sets in.
Of course, it won't be that easy. Before you can say "'City Slickers' meets 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,'" these four wild hogs end up tangling with the Del Fuegos, a bad-to-the-bone biker gang, led by the dastardly Jack (Ray Liotta, looking like a werewolf). Soon, they're embroiled in a subplot involving a stolen motorcycle they must win back -- very convenient for a group of emasculated guys looking to prove their manly might. Can the wild hogs stand up to Jack, rescue their beloved bike and return home heroes?
Alas, revisiting 'Wild Hogs' did little to change my initial impressions of the film. Produced with all the depth of a bad TV movie, every plot "twist" is utterly conventional, and every character a caricature. It seems like the writing, direction and performance are all on autopilot. I have long ago tired of Travolta's faux-humanism, with his permanently plastered-on smile so forced it's as if he's forgotten he's actually supposed to be an actor playing a character, and is not just doing another appearance on 'Oprah.' Allen is even worse, rehashing his old 'Home Improvement' shtick, only without freshness or passion. And poor Lawrence is utterly neutered in the token black guy role, with the movie living in that Hollywood fantasy-land where racism has never existed. Only Macy manages to generate any real endearment, but his character is such a geeky cliche that even he can't do much with such fool's good.
What is most disappointing about 'Wild Hogs,' however, is that it had a real chance to examine mid-life baby boomer angst, but instead seems content to settle for sitcom banality. That these four men would even be friends -- let alone toss away their cell phones to ride 'Deliverance'-style into the wilds of New Mexico -- just isn't made believable. No attempt has been made to examine the depths of their existential crisis in a realistic or resonant way, so their interactions come off as forced and just plain dumb. Perhaps this was all just a big lark for the cast -- certainly judging by the supplements included on this disc, a grand old time was had by all. Unfortunately, that sense of fun and adventure just didn't translate to the screen.
Obviously, with 'Wild Hogs' breaking box office records (it scored the largest-ever March opening weekend ever and is one of Disney's highest-grossing live-action comedies in the studio's history) millions of Americans disagree with me. Perhaps, in hindsight, the movie's massive success with the exact audience it was depicting should come as no surprise. If nothing else, watching 'Wild Hogs' again on Blu-ray did make me realize that, aside from pure fantasy figures like James Bond and Indiana Jones, the mid-life male is all but an endangered species at the multiplex. Once you're past 50 -- male or female -- you're put out to pasture by Hollywood. So why wouldn't the demographic turn out in droves when -- at last! -- it finally sees itself represented onscreen?
Ultimately, I must admit that 'Wild Hogs' is so bland that it could never be offensive. No matter how insipid a film it may be, it is still clearly meant to be a statement of empowerment -- you really can teach an old dog (er, a wild hog) some new tricks. I would also be lying if I said I didn't at least chuckle at some of the more clever scenes and gags (however few of them there may be). 'Wild Hogs' may be just another assembly-line Hollywood product cynically engineered to exploit an infrequent moviegoing audience, but it clearly struck a nerve for many. Maybe it will with you, as well...
Disney brings 'Wild Hogs' home in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode framed at the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and simply put, this it is an excellent presentation. The movie has a bright, ultra-slick look that's as shiny as the chrome on one of its Harleys.
Typical of a new theatrical release, the source is absolutely pristine -- if there was ever a speck of grain on the print, it has been wiped right out of existence. Blacks are rock solid and contrast is just about perfect, with a natural look that delivers great depth but doesn't leave an unrealistic or artificial cast to the transfer. I was also impressed with sharpness of the image -- not a single shot in the film looks soft. Detail is also superior, with a nice three-dimensional quality throughout.
The only somewhat wobbly area is color reproduction. Hues are certainly rock solid and chroma noise and bleeding are not a problem. However, there is a slight pasty look to fleshtones that don't always look natural. Tint also veers ever so slightly to the red end of the spectrum (which doesn't help the bloated, middle-aged faces of Travolta, Allen and the rest of the cast very much). Still, that one small caveat aside, 'Wild Hogs' looks great on Blu-ray.
Essentially a sitcom comedy blown-up to big-screen proportions, 'Wild Hogs' doesn't really deliver gangbusters audio. Still, this uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround mix (at a full 48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps) is probably as good as the film could ever sound, and is actually far more lively than most soundtracks of its ilk.
As 'Wild Hogs' is a road movie on two wheels, nary a scene goes by without a revving motorcycle (or William H. Macy getting into an accident). There is no real sustained ambiance except for natural sounds, but the rears are frequently engaged with bleed from the fronts. The track also expertly recorded, and every effect sounds realistic and natural. Low bass is not overbearing but nicely supports the action. The mix of Teddy Castellucci's rather generic score and a few classic rock staples is quite punchy in the mix, and bleeds well to the rears. Dialogue, however, is ultimately the star of the show, and is perfectly balanced in the mix so there are no volume problems.
'Wild Hogs' comes to Blu-ray with a suite of extras identical to the concurrently-release standard-def DVD version. It's a package that is exactly what you'd expect for a movie like this, with tons of on-set tomfoolery and back-patting cast and crew interviews. Yes, it's utterly frivolous, but then so is the movie.
The 16-minute "Bikes, Brawls and Burning Bars: The Making of 'Wild Hogs'" is your prototypical featurette. Director Walt Becker and the film's four main stars John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence all sit in for on-set chats, mocking each other's egos and what a great time was had by all. Just about the only real "depth" comes from the film's stunt coordinator Jack Gill, who accurately rates each actor's actual riding skills which, except for Travolta, were pretty bad.
Completely throwaway is the 2-minute "How to Get Your Wife to Let You Buy a Motorcycle." It's just a few more interview snippets explaining why most women might be hesitant to let their doofus husbands buy an expensive machine they don't know how to ride. There is also a 3-minute reel of Outtakes, which is your usual funny stuff -- highlights include a quick montage of Macy's riding mishaps, and Allen shamelessly mugging for attention on the set.
Next we have what is billed as the disc's "High Octane Deleted Scenes." Unfortunately, there are only two of them, and they are so minor as to be negligible. There is also a "Freewheelin' Alternate Ending' which sees a return for the cop character played by John McGinley.
Finally, the best extra is the screen-specific audio commentary with Becker and screenwriter Brad Copeland. After a slow start mired in bland production tidbits, Becker and Copeland start touching upon the more interesting aspects of 'Wild Hogs.' Becker grew up steeped in "Harley culture," and his knowledge paid off in the minor details that, despite comedic nature of the film, ring true. But most interesting is Becker and Copeland revealing that 'Wild Hogs' was pitched to the studios as a way to update classic motifs of the Western genre for modern audiences. Perhaps that's why the film resonated so deeply with middle-aged men, a demographic that usually doesn't turn out at the cinema much these days? It's interesting stuff, and by far the only extra here truly worth paying attention to.
(Note that all of the video-based extras on the disc are presented in excellent-quality 1080i/VC-1 video that's easily on par with the main feature.)
'Wild Hogs' was a monster hit at the box office, raking in over $150 million domestically. Although its success remains somewhat inexplicable to me, this subsequent viewing on Blu-ray did leave me with a better appreciation for its appeal. Simply put, this is a comedy aimed at middle-aged men, the kind who secretly long to grab a Harley, dump the pressures and concerns of their suburban existence, and ride off into the sunset. Taken purely on that fantasy level, 'Wild Hogs' is nothing but goofy, silly fun.
This Blu-ray release is a real winner. Disney has delivered an excellent transfer and soundtrack, plus a standard if enjoyable suite of extras. If you are at all a fan of the film (or think you might be), this is an easy recommend.