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Hog Wild

1980, Starring Patti D'Arbanville, Michael Biehn, Tony Rosato, Angelo Rizacos, Martin Doyle, Claude Philippe, Matt Craven, Jack Blum. Directed by Les Rose.

It's easy to write off Les Rose's teen motorcycle comedy Hog Wild as just another Porky's clone at least until you discover that it actually pre-dates Bob Clark's coming-of-age classic by several years. Hitting theatres and drive-ins in the long hot summer of 1980, Hog Wild is a little too short on horsepower to recommend itself as anything but a fairly competent time-waster, but it still holds a distinctive place in the teen sex comedy annals as a pioneering Canadian effort that helped shape the controversial genre in the years to come.

The film begins with a misunderstanding that gets bland but likeable Tim Warner (Michael Biehn) expelled from the local military academy. Disappointed, Tim's father quickly enrolls him in a nearby high school, but a life of privilege has left his teenage son clueless to the social pecking order of public education. Before long, he runs afoul of the student biker gang "The Rustlers," after he falls for chopper chick Angie (Patti D'Arbanville), the girlfriend of the group's unintelligible leader Bull (Tony Rosato). This unrequited love makes Tim a target of the Rustlers' bullying--they fill his vintage hot rod with concrete, pelt him with cafeteria food, and even somehow run his car up the school's flagpole. One night, after causing a riot at the local theatre screening of Angels Hard as They Come, Bull and his cronies head to the beach where Tim's gang and their girlfriends are having a campfire. They strap the girls to the back of their bikes and handcuff the guys together, forcing them to walk back to town in their skivvies. To get revenge, and the respect of their dates back, Tim and his friends sneak outside the Rustlers' clubhouse, chain their cycles to the wooden shack and stuff firecrackers in all the exhaust pipes. Eventually, Angie tires of Bull's bull, and dumps her leather jacket for a letterman sweater, enjoying a romp in a vat of honey with her relentless paramour, Tim. Not content with just stealing Bull's girl, wrecking their clubhouse and damaging their hogs, Tim decides to enter a local motorcycle race and beat the Rustlers at their own game once and for all.

After years of cutting their teeth on Quebec's amusing "maple syrup porn" films, ubiquitous Canadian producers Claude Heroux and Pierre David attempted to break into the English-language comedy market with Hog Wild, but something seems to have gotten lost in the translation--the film is rarely as funny as it thinks it is. Hog Wild seems to have been conceived more or less as a vehicle for Tony Rosato, an underrated SCTV second-stringer, but the role is far from ideal--the mush-mouthed Bull can only be understood by his biker buddies, who then " translate" his comments as--gasp! poetically-rich insights. Rosato does what he can with the character, offering up his best Harpo Marx impression, but it's a one-joke gimmick and the payoff is rarely worth it. Instead, it's Canadian '80s film mainstay Keith Knight who manages to steal a few scenes as Vern, an earnest but far too wholesome biker wannabe who tags along with the gang in the hopes that he too can join their outlaw ranks. Rather than sticking with character comedy, though, director Les Rose is dead set on delivering a film of non-stop pranks--a pointless and barely funny tug-of-war between the Rustlers and Tim that takes up the bulk of the film's running time. By the time we finally get to the climactic motorcycle race, which is squeezed into the final five minutes as though it was an afterthought, the constant feuding has pretty much eroded all audience sympathy for Tim--he's got the girl and Bull is absolutely crushed, why does he want to humiliate the whole biker gang on top of everything else? What starts as a film about standing up for yourself ends up as a how-to manual for self-made assholes.

Despite it's deficiencies in the comedy department, Hog Wild still plays an important part in the history of Canadian B-film. Combining the self-confidence and underdog competition of Meatballs with the pranking and sexually-charged hijinks that audiences would see done much better a few years later in Porky's, Hog Wild is clearly a template for future Canadian teen sex comedies. Though nudity had yet to be incorporated into the formula, all the rest of the now-familiar ingredients are here, many seemingly for the first time--the casting of a B-list Canadian comedian, hard-ass authority figures, dumb sight gags, a fantastic and memorable poster (by MAD magazine's Jack Davis), and a balance of real life heroes with wild, over-the-top caricatures, like prototypical nerd Gil Lasky (Jack Blum) and a perpetually horny English teacher (Bronwen Mantel). Though these separate elements haven't been combined in a particularly meaningful way this time out, you do get the sense that this film is onto something special--a new kind of teen comedy that surely influenced both Bob Clark and his own countless imitators throughout the next decade.

Filmed in Montreal, but clearly set in a no-name, American small town, Hog Wild is very nicely shot by veteran Canadian DP Rene Verzier, who captured a number of notable tax shelter productions including Rituals and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Unfortunately, there's little that's Canadian about the film beyond the setting and the supporting cast, made up of unsung youngsters like Thom Haverstock, Matt Craven, Jack Blum, Tom Kovacs, Helene Udy, Michael Zelniker and the aforementioned Keith Knight, who were all charter members of an unofficial Canadian "Brat pack" that dominated Northern teen comedies and slasher flicks well into the mid-1980s. Also of note is the film's faux Ennio Morricone spaghetti western score by Paul Zaza--a major departure from his usual work, that proves an ill-fit with the material at hand.

Though Claude Hroux and Pierre David were unable to generate much laughter from either this film or their poorly received tax shelter follow-ups, Gas and Dirty Tricks, they did manage to make a name for themselves in the realm of CanHorror, launching certified genre classics like Videodrome and Of Unknown Origin a few short years later. Occupying a less prominent slot on their resumes, Hog Wild unfortunately squanders its potential by refusing to play to its strengths, but it's certainly worth a look for Canadian teen comedy fans who are interested in the uncertain birth of one of the most prolific areas of Canadian B-film.

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