With a story featuring a man torn between work and play, kids who think he's the world's biggest dork, and a wife who's starting to side with the children, R.V. has the potential to become a wry slice of social commentary, remarking on how families have grown more distant as technology has advanced and, overall, how they've lost the ability to have fun together. Unfortunately, that's not the R.V. currently dominating the box office and playing in theatres across the country. That movie is a simplistic slapstick comedy, a veritable rehashing of the Vacation movies for the new millennium. Although the movie isn't without its share of zippy one-liners or amusing little moments, R.V., like the titular vehicle, is mostly a big, clunky personification of pure kitsch.
Chevy Chase -- oops! I mean Robin Williams -- plays Bob Munro, a corporate relations man for a major soda company. On the eve of a big Hawaiian vacation, however, Bob's germ-phobic boss (Will Arnett) assigns him to come up with a proposal for an upcoming takeover. Not wanting to lose his job or lose his family, Bob devises what he thinks is a brilliant plan: rent a massive RV and haul the wife and little ones on a road trip to Colorado, where the big presentation is scheduled to take place.
Despite the objections and rolling eyes from his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines), sarcastic daughter Cassie (Joanna "JoJo" Levesque), and weightlifting son Carl (Josh Hutcherson), Bob presses onward, determined to do a little family bonding while putting together his presentation. As it turns out, though, their vacation hits a number of roadblocks, including wild animals infesting the RV, backed-up sewage tanks, and the Gornicke family, a clan whose happiness borders on being psychotic.
Although director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) would probably prefer the film to be judged on its own merits, the very premise behind R.V. begs for comparisons to the popular National Lampoon's Vacation series. Both have the same setup (goofy patriarch packs the family up on an agonizingly boring, yet strangely eventful road trip), but the key difference which divides the two is that while Chevy Chase blessed his character with a crazy edge, delivering a man driven to the edge of insanity to have the best time he can, Williams takes a much safer route. There's nary a risque or raunchy element to be found within any frame of R.V. This is family-friendly entertainment all the way, and while most audiences will be more than satisfied to hitch a ride on its goofy journey, the movie isn't without its share of roadblocks. R.V. gets off to a surprisingly good start in the humor department, kicking off the film with a brief, funny little scene where the story flashes foward from Bob telling grade-schooler Cassie a story to the present, where everything he does seems to embarrass his daughter.
But after that acerbic prologue, R.V. settles into a predictable, worn-out routine. The Munro family goes through a handful of comic misadventures. Bob struggles to balance career and family (in an idiotic subplot that slows down the film's pace; I would love to have seen Bob just go overboard in trying to get closer to his family), and, in the end, everyone learns a Valuable Lesson about life. I admire the flick's disregard of plot complexities, and I even laughed a couple of times (especially at the bizarrely-cheery Gornicke clan, led by Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth), but R.V. is almost too simple for its own good -- its unoriginal story keying the audience in to a large chunk of the laughs in advance and growing even more boring as the plot lurches from comic set piece to comic set piece.
Williams, a performer who can prove himself to be one of the funniest people on the planet if given carte blanche to go as nuts as he wants (as demonstrated in his drop-dead hilarious HBO special from a few years ago), tries his hardest to generate some chuckles with the tame material, but for the most, the bumbling dad role really limits what he can do onscreen. The supporting actors have an even easier job; the only function Hines, Levesque, and Hutcherson seem to have is to sit back and react to Williams' doofus character.
R.V. is one of those movies where nothing a critic says will make a difference. Because it's a family comedy relying not only on poop jokes and physical gags but also on the name of its star, this film is a sure box office success. However, although R.V. boasts a handful of funny moments and proves harmless overall, most viewers have experienced their own family vacations that were much more fun than watching this movie.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG" for crude humor, innuendo and language.)