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RV (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 28 April 2006
As we all have come to understand, nothing, absolutely nothing, says “family comedy” more than a good supply of poopoo jokes, a family and lots of slapstick. The perfect family comedy would be mom and dad having a pie fight with junior in a cess pool. But until that happy time arrives, “RV” is an ideal family comedy, as it spends about ten minutes early on drenching Robin Williams in the liquefied contents of his huge RV’s toilet storage tank. He announces more than once that he’s covered in fecal material. Slapstick and poo combined.

Also, the TV spots for the film are poisonous, probably driving away more potential customers than they will attract. Something’s rotten in the state of Columbia’s publicity department—because the movie is a good deal better than the trailers and the early poopoo jokes make it seem. This is mostly due to director Barry Sonnenfeld (“The Addams Family,” “Men in Black”) and the talented cast. The screenplay by Geoff Rodkey is clumsy and obvious, but the movie, as sometimes happens, is considerably better than its own script. (Rodkey also wrote “Daddy Day Care” and the recent new Disney version of “The Shaggy Dog.”)

It’s definitely a formula movie; the formula goes back as far as “Sullivan’s Travels” (1942), when movie star Joel McCrea tried to see the real America in a huge land yacht. That was only a small part of the movie, but 1954 brought “The Long, Long Trailer” with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball; they played a married couple who have enormous problems while vacationing in the travel trailer of the title.

“RV” establishes Robin Williams as Bob Monroe, married with two kids, who’s in the advertising/promotions department of germophobic Todd Mallory (a reptilian Will Arnett). Bob’s facing stiff competition from an upstart in his office, and Todd’s a hard man to please anyway—and demands obsequious devotion from his hirelings. Bob and wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines, from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) are looking forward to a long-planned Hawaiian vacation.

The movie opens in the past, with Bob clearly adored by his young daughter Cassie, then switches (without a clear indication) to the present day. Cassie (Joanna “JoJo” Levesque) now regards her father with a teenager’s withering disdain. Her younger brother Carl (Josh Hutcherson) spends his time listening to rap and pumping iron. He, too, is distant from Bob.

After an unpleasant incident at a party involving Todd’s marketing of sugar-laden soft drinks to schools, Bob finds himself on the brink of being fired. In a few days he has to join Todd in Boulder, Colorado at the headquarters of a healthy, environmentally conscious regional soft drink company to convince the owners to allow their firm to be bought out by Todd’s. Todd arrogantly tells Bob to cancel the Hawaiian trip, and also makes it clear that Bob’s job depends on his showing up in Boulder.
Bob wants to reach his kids, and has to be in Boulder. Instead of explaining his job problems to Cassie and the kids, he rents a mammoth RV and announces that instead of Hawaii, the family will spend two weeks driving around in the gigantic vehicle. The movie doesn’t provide a convincing reason why Bob doesn’t just explain his dilemma to his family; this is the principal weakness of the over-complicated plot. Clearly the movie will require Bob to quit his job with Todd, but it takes about 90 minutes of the 98-minute running time to reach that foregone conclusion.

Still, the trip is fun to watch. First, Bob has to deal with his annoyed children, who’d rather be surfing in Hawaii than cruising through the desert flatlands of the Southwest. Also, of course, almost everything that could go wrong does go wrong. There’s that waste disposal problem, a trio of raccoons to contend with, a drenching downpour, the parking brake doesn’t work, the awning is torn off and so forth. Bob keeps trying to eMail his proposal to Todd, but his laptop is stolen and his Blackberry can’t connect by wi-fi. This particular complication should have been dropped as it has no payoff; Bob finally does send the proposal, and Todd likes it—so Bob’s efforts seem a waste of time.

A more interesting complication is the Gornicke family, headed by Travis (Jeff Daniels) and MaryJo (Kristen Chenoweth). They have three kids and travel about the country in a huge bus. They make enough money to spend their entire time cruising about the U.S. But they’re also very country-western styled, appearing like appalling hicks to the Monroes, who can’t seem to get away from them. The RV and the story wend their way to Colorado, played by Canada.

Barry Sonnenfeld directed, and that’s him on the side of the Monroe’s RV. Evidently this huge ad meant a reduced rental price for Bob, although this is never explained, nor is the garish sign mentioned after we first see it. That’s actually a joke in itself, but it’s subtle.

The rest of the movie isn’t subtle, of course; it’s an all-out family comedy, with disaster and squabbles the primary content. But the cast is especially good, top to bottom, and Sonnenfeld’s always been fine with actors. Williams hasn’t had a role this large in years, and it’s a pleasure to have him back. He even gets to do one of his brilliant comedy riffs when he encounters three would-be homeboys (from Arizona) in a park and lays a Malibu-influenced rap barrage on them. He also works very well with the two actors playing his children; there’s real warmth in his scenes with Josh Hutcherson, who was very good in “Kicking and Screaming” and “Zathura.” He’s fine here, too; he provides a real characterization that’s useful to the movie.

Cheryl Hines is impressive as Robin’s wife Jamie; she’s bright and winning, but just a little oblivious to her husband. Wearing earphones she sings along (badly) with “G.T.O.”, unaware that her bellowing is driving others in the RV to distraction. Her performance has great clarity: we always understand her motivations and actions, and they always seem appropriate for this character. Hutcherson is a very consistent, unshowy kid actor who will probably make a smooth transition to adult roles.

Joanna “JoJo” Levesque is one of those phenomena that come along in a while. Out of nowhere she became a recording star and has been acting since she was eight. This is only her second movie; the first, “Aquamarine,” was released earlier this year. She’s not yet as adept as the cast around her, but she’s fun to watch.

So, as always, is Jeff Daniels, here more or less in the Randy Quaid role. He’s a big cowboy type, extravagant in gesture and personality; the Monroes think he’s a dumb clodhopper, but even before dialogue reveals he’s not, we can see more to him than the Monroes believe. Daniels is one of the most reliable actors around, moving very believably from broad comedy (“Dumb and Dumber”) to moving drama (“The Squid and the Whale.”).

Kristen Chenoweth, a regular on the rapidly-disappearing “West Wing,” is charming as the good ol’ girl, happy and as outgoing as her husband. She dresses in slightly outrageous country-western garb, but like Daniels, we in the audience see there’s a person inside the flashy clothes.

The movie is full of gags; some work, some don’t. Those that don’t can make you roll your eyes and start wondering how much longer you’ll have to sit there, but bad stuff is quickly followed by good stuff or interesting character bits. The plot is unnecessarily complicated, but doesn’t interfere with the story. Bob does begin to connect with his kids, and they with him; we see this in the performances before the dialogue begins to emphasize it.

As with “40 Year Old Virgin,” “RV” concludes with the main cast doing a terrific musical number; here, it’s appropriately the classic “Route 66,” with everyone, especially Levesque, simply wonderful.

“RV” is a summer comedy arriving in spring. It has its problems, but it also has the virtue of being very funny and occasionally even a little moving. And the cast is outstanding.

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