MOVIE REVIEW- Hog slog: Nothing if not a boar-ing movie

Not since Deliverance, which is referenced therein, has a movie about four straight men been more obsessed with, and repulsed by, the possibility of homosexual contact, than Wild Hogs.

On the surface it's a City Slickers-like comedy about middle-aged guys trying to break up their suburban routine. Five days a week they're disrespected, disillusioned, and disenchanted; but on weekends Doug (Tim Allen), Woody (John Travolta), Bobby (Martin Lawrence) and Dudley (William H. Macy) climb aboard motorcycles, call themselves "Wild Hogs" and try to outrun their feelings. Then they're just disingenuous.

Doug is a dentist with an inferiority complex because he's not a doctor. He has a wife, Kelly (Jill Hennessy), and son, Bill (Dominic Janes), who patronize him. Woody has recently lost his perfect job and supermodel wife.

Bobby took a year off from plumbing to write a how-to book but didn't know how to. The year's up, and his wife, Karen (Tichina Arnold) makes him go back to work. She doesn't mind wearing the pants in the family– in fact she insists on it– but she won't be the sole supporter.

Dudley, a computer programmer who needs training wheels on his bike, is "afraid of women." The way he puts his arm around Woody at every opportunity suggests a late-blooming Brokeback biker, but that's just an excuse for Woody to display a variety of disgusted reactions to things like Dudley smelling his neck when he's "riding bitch" on the back of his bike.

Having the least to lose, Woody suggests taking a week or so off and "headin' for the Pacific" from Cincinnati. It takes a "stress-induced panic attack" to persuade Doug to go along, and Bobby lies to Karen about where he's going. Dudley has trouble adapting to the "no plan" aspect of the trip, but so do they all.

They're supposed to camp out, but their tent burns down the first night and they're left spooning on an air mattress. The next morning they're discovered by a gay state trooper (John C. McGinley, wisely going unbilled) who wants to join them. He'll show up again, of course, when they go skinny-dipping, maintaining a safe distance from each other– especially the black guy.

Wild Hogs' intended equivalent of the Jack Palance character in City Slickers is the Del Fuegos, a real biker gang led by Jack (Ray Liotta). They also have someone to bash for saying gay-ish things.

Having incurred the wrath of the Del Fuegos, our heroes flee to Madrid, New Mexico, a town the gang terrorizes regularly, like outlaws in an old Western. As things build toward a showdown, Dudley falls in love with Maggie (Marisa Tomei), who owns the local café, and even gets up the nerve to act on it– with the help of a dance lesson from Woody.

Madrid is famous for the "World's Hottest Chili Contest," an excuse for an annual carnival. There the camera keeps returning to Kyle Gass, an effeminate, mediocre singer, as if leading up to a punchline that never comes.

The time does come for the Wild Hogs to defend the town against the Del Fuegos, and while it's as pointless as the rest of the movie, it features a cleverly appropriate cameo.

It's unfathomable what could have attracted this cast to this material. Allen, Lawrence, Macy, and Tomei stay within their comfort zones and will be able to live Wild Hogs down. Travolta, however, delivers his worst performance ever in a film not related to Scientology, and Liotta is about as fear-inducing as Macauley Culkin.

Director Walt Becker debuted with the execrable National Lampoon's Van Wilder and hasn't improved in anything but his ability to hire good actors and cinematographer Robbie Greenberg. Screenwriter Brad Copeland, who has written for Arrested Development and My Name Is Earl, should stick to the small screen. Producer Brian Robbins can boast responsibility for two of the worst films (with Norbit) in current release.

To give it a fair chance, I saw Wild Hogs in Valdosta, Georgia, where the audience was mildly appreciative. It's definitely a "red state" movie. As for me, I sympathized with Doug when, trying to talk himself out of going along, he says, "It's like taking a trip to nowhere."