The best that can be said for RV is that it’s tolerable in stretches and amusing in individual moments. Why Barry Sonnenfeld, a heavy hitter with the Men in Black franchise under his belt, decided to put this emphatically unremarkable, sub-Chevy Chase road trip comedy on his resume is a mystery. Robin Williams, at least, has an excuse: he is trying to rebuild his family film street cred after almost a decade without a hit. I suspect he may have to try again. Mrs. Doubtfire 2 might have a better chance.
RV is formula, punctuated with condescension so fierce it goes beyond the formula’s call of duty. It involves a family gearing up for a vacation to Hawaii — until father Bob (Williams) is informed by his boss (Will Arnett from the late Arrested Developoment) that he is needed for a presentation in Boulder, Colorado. Fearing that he is distant enough from his children (Joanna ‘JoJo’ Levesque and Josh Hutcherson) and his wife (Cheryl Hines) already, he decides to rent an RV and haul them to Boulder in lieu of flying to Hawaii. Of course, he doesn’t tell them about work, doing it under the guise of family bonding — I wonder if the family will at first be witheringly sarcastic and disgusted with the bait-and-switch, then ashamed of themselves for being mean to dad, then angry during the dramatic scene where they discover his secret.
Yes! In fact, all of those things will be true! The difference between RV and the innumerable other films with that identical progression is that here, the transitions occur with no warning or explanation. The wife and kids go from scowling to beaming in the blink of an eye. Of course, since the entirety of the film is inevitable, it’s hard to be too disappointed; the best I could muster was mild puzzlement.
It’s hard to hate the film, as well, at least for a while. Notwithstanding the opening scene, wherein Williams does a sock puppet schtick, the actor mostly keeps it subdued, and I was surprised to find him a genuinely amiable presence. The screenplay even manages to get off a few good lines, though the good joke quotient starts mediocre and declines throughout. I somehow found myself willing to tolerate the fecal shower featured prominently in the trailer, and an extended gag involving malevolent raccoons in the oven. The presence of the relentlessly entertaining Jeff Daniels as a genial yokel who terrifies Williams and company probably didn’t hurt.
But then! Lest you too watch RV and are lulled into thinking that hey, this really isn’t so bad: rest assured that the last 25 minutes will trump your worst nightmare. Aside from revealing that the yokels our protagonists have been trying to run away from and ignore aren’t merely genial but also went to Stanford, it also features an extended speech by Cheryl Hines that concludes with the phrase “then I must have been a failure as a wife,” and about 57 triumphant endings to make sure that not a single sub-plot is on a downbeat when the credits roll. It is an absolute onslaught of the insufferable.
There will always be room for movies like this, the theory goes: cheery and thoughtless, demanding nothing and giving nothing in return. I guess I object to that kind of movie having this kind of pedigree. Williams and Sonnenfeld, veterans both, must have better things to do.