Born to be wild, but not gay

'Wild Hogs' deserves credit for a small but significant measure of originality. Its soundtrack is full of classic, open-road rock 'n' roll songs

By A. O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 17

The Four Little Piggies — Wild Hogs, the real title, doesn't work as well — is a comedy about male midlife anxiety. Some of us may not find the subject so funny, but never mind. Somebody needed to revive the City Slickers formula, and this time the job has gone to Brad Copeland, who wrote the screenplay, and Walt Becker, who directed.

Four buddies, fed up with the frustration and disappointment of their lives, set out on a road trip aboard their beloved motorcycles. Doug (Tim Allen), a dentist, worries that he has become so dull and uncool that he has lost the respect of his preadolescent son. Woody (John Travolta) is a hotshot deal maker who has lost his wife and his money. Bobby (Martin Lawrence), a plumber turned writer, is hopelessly henpecked, while Dudley (William H. Macy) is a hopeless nerd. (He is also at least the second character in a comedy released this year, after Diane Keaton's in Because I Said So, whose computer gets stuck on a noisy Internet porn site, a situation he is unable to remedy. This kind of thing must happen a lot to Hollywood screenwriters.)

The main thing about these guys — the main source of the movie's fumbling attempts at humor — is that they're not gay. Really. Seriously. No way. They may worry about people thinking that they're gay, and they may do things that might make people think that they're gay — dance, touch one another, take off their clothes, express emotion — but they're absolutely 100 percent not gay. No no no no no no. No sir, I mean, no ma'am. That's what makes it funny, see.

After camping out one night, for example, they have a conversation that's overheard by a highway patrolman (John McGinley) who decides, based on his misunderstanding of the perfectly innocent things they're saying, that they must be gay. But the thing is — get this — he's the one who's gay! You think he's a stereotypical homophobe, but he turns out to be a homophobic stereotype. It's magic!

Anyway, the four nongay guys run afoul of some real bikers — one of whom might be gay! — and have to prove their manhood by standing up to the bullies. In the process, one of them gets it on with Marisa Tomei in the most nongay way imaginable within the limits of a PG-13 movie. The wives of the two who still have wives show up, proving, well, you know. And the fourth one? Could it be? Shut up!

Lawrence and Allen, who have never aspired very far beyond their affable television-comedy personas, are easier to watch than Travolta or Macy, who both undertake what can only be called acting. This is more than the picture deserves, but then again, so is Ray Liotta, as the chieftain of the bad bikers, and so is Tomei.