Bob Munro (Robin Williams) has gotten himself into a tight spot. His slave-driving boss has demanded he close the deal on a merger with a rival company in the same week that Bob has promised to take his family to Hawaii. With family relations already hanging by a thread, Bob knows he can't simply cancel the holiday completely. Instead he comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He'll rent a huge motorized home or "recreational vehicle" (R.V. for short), and he and the family will drive up to Colorado where the merger deal will be signed. But keeping the ungainly RV on the road, and his family from killing each other, proves a lot more difficult than Bob ever anticipated.
It's hard to think of a movie that resembles it's own subject matter more than RV. A lumbering, hokey family comedy that takes forever to go anywhere and makes a lot of unnecessary noise along the way, RV would be utterly unwatchable if it weren't for a good heart and a better director.
Barry Sonnenfeld has proved his talent for injecting oomph into big, glitzy comedies like Men in Black and The Addams Family. With a deft hand for the mechanics of staging a scene and an eye for detail to match, Sonnenfeld's films have a kind of comforting solidity, like well-appointed old houses. Unfortunately he also has an insatiable appetite for gimmicks, both visual and conceptual, and this has led him to make a handful of deeply stupid films like Wild, Wild West (1999) and now RV.
You have to feel for him though. Given the kind of temptation that the subject matter presents, how could he say no? For a director who thrives on visual puns and comedic set pieces, recreational vehicles are like an all you can eat buffet. The problem is that there are only so many (or rather so few) laughs to be had out of the "look how big and ugly this vehicle is" gag before it becomes tired.
The movie constantly cries out for more substantial material for Sonnenfeld to shape, but he gets no help from his screenwriter, studio hack Geoff Rodkey. Having proven his "talent" for co-writing idiotic, derivative slapstick like Daddy Day Care and The Shaggy Dog, Rodkey has now been unleashed on a solo project. Granted it's his best work to date, but he still wastes all but a few opportunities for wry observational humour about family trips. Instead he falls back to the only thing he seems to know - physical humour.
Even worse, the film puts Robin Williams on receiving end of most of this humour. It quickly devolves into a competition to see which of its pawns can endure the most physical punishment -Williams or the battered RV itself. Williams has always been a gifted comedian, but slapstick this simplistic just doesn't suit him anymore.
Even when he's not being bumped, dragged, squashed or sprayed, he has this permanently pained expression on his face. He's earned some recognition as a serious actor over the last decade or so, and you can almost see him thinking "What the hell am I doing back here? I thought I had escaped this drek." Always the professional, he does his best with the material, visibly straining to squeeze laughs out of the bad lines. But mostly he comes across as a sad parody of his own comedic style.
The supporting cast have a far better time, since the film feels no urge to humiliate them. Bob's family (including Cheryl Hines from TV's Curb Your Enthusiasm) are outshone by the antics of a family of dyed in the wool RVers - the Gornickes. Led by Jeff Daniels and the irresistibly silly Kristin Chenoweth, the Gornickes are as loud and obvious as the rest of the film, but the zest with which they deliver their silly schtick proves to be more fun than it should be.
RV isn't an awful film. Like the neighbours who treat you to a 350 photo slideshow of "Our Trip to Paris / Perth / Pofadder", it doesn't mean to be a crushing bore. But honesty and good-natured stupidity aren't much fun when you're trapped in a room with them for 90 odd minutes.
- Alistair Fairweather
If you hate Robin Williams then you might enjoy watching him get bashed, scratched, squashed and sprayed with sewerage in RV. It certainly isn't funny for anyone else.
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