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‘Wild Hogs’ is born to be mild

Allen, Travolta and Lawrence just aren’t convincing as lifelong friends. By John Hartl

Assembly-line comedies sometimes have their calculated charms, but “Wild Hogs” is so disjointed and artificial that it fails to establish a satisfying comic rhythm.

A close cousin to last year’s Robin Williams vehicle, “RV,” it’s the story of four suburban pals who are feeling paunchy and middle-aged and need a break. Played by Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and Bill Macy — four actors who never quite share the screen comfortably — the dubiously nicknamed Wild Hogs decide to abandon their domestic problems, toss their cellphones and hit the pavement on their motorcycles.

“A road trip: just us, the wind, the road to the Pacific,” says Travolta. “If not now, when?”

Within a few days of taking off, they manage to burn down their tent, fail at skinnydipping, pique the interest of a gay cop and arouse the anger of a sinister biker gang known as Del Fuegos. Led by Ray Liotta, who seems to be channeling Marlon Brando in “The Wild One,” these bullies provide enough effective opposition to pull the Hogs together as a team.

Unfortunately, Allen, Travolta and Lawrence never convince as lifelong friends, while Macy is off in a world all his own. He’s been cast as Dudley, the accident-prone geek of the gang, who fails to click with women until he dances with Maggie (Marisa Tomei), the seductive owner of the small-town café Liotta wants to torch.

Much as Macy and Tomei try to pull off this unlikely romance, the seams show in every scene they share. Maggie is supposedly an experienced businesswoman, Dudley is a computer expert, but their attraction to each other is a complete mystery. It’s as if the writer had left out all the scenes establishing their relationship — or the director opted to trim them to pick up the pace.

Walt Becker, best-known for directing “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” seems to think he’s directing a live-action cartoon. Allen, Travolta and Lawrence appear to agree, but Macy, Tomei and Liotta are often headed in a different direction altogether. And since Macy seems to be having the most fun, he steals what little there is to steal.

The script is the work of Brad Copeland, who previously specialized in creating television episodes of “Arrested Development” and “My Name Is Earl.” While he may not be ready for a prime-time full-length feature, a few scenes show promise.

In the most memorable episode, klutzy Dudley tries to log on to the internet in a crowded café, with amusingly misunderstood results. It’s one of the few slapstick scenes in which the pratfalls are allowed to build, and Macy is given just enough room to make them pay off.

But just as many other touches are excruciating — the abundant poop jokes, the witless references to “Deliverance,” a cameo appearance by a motorcycling icon, and Lawrence’s indulgent treatment of his screaming daughter. Her screaming jag looks like an improvisation, and one that should have been dumped on the cutting-room floor.