Monday, August 13, 2007
Written by Musgo Del Jefe
"RIDE HARD OR STAY HOME"
The mid-life crisis has come a long way. In 1991, Billy Crystal (43), Bruno Kirby (42) and Daniel Stern (34) set out on a cattle-driving adventure in City Slickers. In a memorable opening, we quickly set the mid-life problems and malaise of the characters before moving to the Western sets. After a few comic sets dealing with these city men out of their element, we settle in for the "lesson". Our city slickers lead the cattle back to the ranch. Through these tribulations, each character learns to find the passion for things in life that really matter and return home changed men.
In 2007, the mid-life crisis is a little older. Doug (Tim Allen - 55) is a bored dentist, Woody (John Travolta - 54) is generic formerly rich/now divorcing businessman, Bobby (Martin Lawrence - 43) is a wife-nagged, would-be writer/plumber, and Dudley (William H. Macy - 58) is generic computer guy who can't get a girlfriend. We get this all in brief intros to each character that covers the first ten minutes of the movie. No explanation of the history of their relationships or how they even know each other except that we see them riding together. They claim to be from Cincinnati, but the scenes could place this in any mid-sized city east of the Mississippi.
The first thing you notice is that Harley must have stipulated that every time the group takes off on their Hogs, a classic rock song must be playing. All the expected cuts are here - "Slow Ride", "Highway To Hell," and "Who Do Ya Love" among at least eight such scenes I counted. I will say that the film didn't turn into the 100-minute commercial for Harley that I feared I was in store for.
Twenty minutes in, we've established nothing other than the boys have decided for no real specific reason to go on their road trip to see the Pacific Ocean. Only Woody seems to have a reason to leave town (escaping his impending divorce), the others are a little more dubious including a trumped-up "stress induced panic attack" for Doug. The others seem to just be along for the ride. Speaking of being along for the ride, this seems to be a good point to mention how out of place that Martin Lawrence looks and feels in this film. He's over ten years younger than the rest of the Hogs and his humor is really nothing along the lines of what the others have done. It ends up singling him out to such an extent that he feels like "token African-American" in the script. Someone closer to their age like Denzel Washington (53) could've filled the role without calling attention to it.
For the next twenty minutes, we see where the director had a hard time finding the audience for this film. Sandwiched between broad humor scenes of bagged poop, burning tents, and awkward skinny-dipping is a completely off-color, full-of-gay-sex-innuendo scene with the brilliant John C. McGinley (here with the oddest blonde wig). The tamer scenes were just what my tweens expected when they saw that this movie had "that Disney film guy" (Allen) and "that Hairspray guy" (Travolta). Guys falling off their motorcycles, eating too hot chili and slapping a bull on the butt were the heart of this film but few and far between.
Forty minutes into the film, the Second Act started with the Hogs entering a "real" biker bar in New Mexico. As Jack, the leader of the Del Fuegos, Ray Liotta (53) plays a mere shadow of his Something Wild character. For the remaining portion of the movie, the Hogs must stand up to the Del Fuegos and protect the city of Madrid, New Mexico from their bullying. The two least-developed characters, Bobby and Dudley, overcome their "problems" without any real effort. And at seventy-five minutes, we start Act Three with the Wild Hogs deciding to finally stand up to the bullies.
And here was the chance to save this movie. The four are going to stand up to the big, bad guys to defend the town. Could each pull upon their "expertise" to defeat the enemy? Doug would use some dental knowledge, Bobby would draw upon his plumbing experience, Dudley would work with the computers, and Woody would have to come up with something because we don't know much about him. And they'd work together, reinforcing their friendship and find the passion for things in life that really matter and return home changed men?
Of course, it's a positive ending but it's out of the blue and it involves Peter Fonda showing up out of nowhere. And they do get to see the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the best laughs of the film might be the Extreme Makeover parody that rolls over the final credits. Great shots of beautiful motorcycles, scenic New Mexico vistas, and great acting jobs by Stephen Tobolowsky as the sheriff and Jason Sklar as one of his deputies couldn't save the film. Not slick enough, no real lessons learned. They should have just stayed home.