A paradox. Silly sight gags, tiresome slapstick, lame gay jokes. Scathing reviews from the critics, but packed theaters and number one for the week at the box office.
By history, the critics and film going public rarely see eye to eye. The most notable example being “Used Cars” directed in 1980 by a young Robert Zemeckis, starring Kurt Russell. Released to theaters, it flopped instantly and lasted about a week. One of the first films sold (cheap) to HBO and released without fanfare as a new experiment in TV movies. It then proceeded to break every known record and ran for five years, making HBO a bundle and setting the stage for the now monster TV movie industry. It’s hysterical. TV audiences howled. Possibly one of the funniest films in history, depending on your taste. What did TV viewers see that critics didn’t? I think critics see art, and the public sees entertainment, and the reason Used Cars flew was it found an audience that the critics didn’t get to first.
In 2007, the critics are still right, but the audience still rules. Wild Hogs is an entertaining film with an interesting core that only an authentic Walter Mitty can fully appreciate. Bored work-a-day guys, caught up in a mundane existence finding adventure on the open road. A commonly recurring scene popularized in the 50s by Jack Kerouac and extended in 60s flower power counterculture. The lure of the open road. It’s unclear if the Director intended the actual vision in real life but it emerges. A collection of slovenly, mean spirited and hostile antagonists looking to find blame for their miserable lot. What better blame than “posers”, comfortable, conformist pretenders role playing for a time, then returning to their alternate universe in time for supper.
Pivotal joker in the deck is cameo role by the original highway nomad of the 60s, Peter Fonda, who incidentally hasn’t aged very well. Fonda reminds the outlaws, not very convincingly, that the “real” ethos of the open road are those willing to take chances by moving out of a safe niche into the unknown, to stand or fall by their wits. The outlaws didn’t look too impressed by this revelation, but the whole point of an elder statesman is to interpret nuances in standing law.
The reality is that the real open road has been heavily romanticized and mythicized. History shows that the open road leads mainly to isolation and insanity as befell most of the 50’s Beat Generation. The caption on the “Easy Rider” poster in my den reads: “A Man went looking for America……and couldn’t find it”. Hunter Thompson captured denizens of the open road immaculately in “Hell’s Angels”: “They were a bunch of overgrown adolescents, stuck in their religious mind-set as a way of life. They defined themselves by their opposition to any and everything. The strength of their antagonism was the source of their faith, and like all holy wars, their greatest enemies and their greatest source of bloodshed was from within, battles against rival factions competing for bottom of the barrel status”.
The higher reality is never revealed. That a Harley-Davidson is not a magic carpet and the open road has effectively been pasteurized, homogenized, standardized and the loose ends connected. The highest rate of death and disability in motorcycle accidents is in middle-aged men who have never ridden a two-wheel vehicle since they were ten years old. Real Wild Hogs of our day travel intricately planned routes from Hilton to Hilton with the accompaniment of Blackberries and cell phones. Perhaps lessons of the past have been heeded.
Otherwise, it’s an entertaining film with a lot of laughs.