I’m trying to think of a reason to give Barry Sonnenfeld’s most recent misfire anything beyond a half-star rating, and I’m not getting anywhere. Having laughed once — at Jeff Daniels as a good-natured rube saying, “I am filled with chagrin” — hardly seems a good enough reason.
I will however note that there was a woman seated somewhere behind me who was having a great time with R.V. — to the degree that I thought she might be the natural heir to the lady on the I Love Lucy laugh-track (the one who greeted seemingly every impending gag by laughing and crying, “Oh, no!”). Every misfortune that befell Robin Williams’ beleaguered bumbler met with her laughter. If he was against the windshield of a runaway RV, she burst into hysterics – as much for the sixth time the gag was repeated as she did for the first. I was glad she was having such a good time, because I wasn’t.
The problem is that R.V. isn’t just a bad movie; more than that, it’s symptomatic of a kind of bad movie that seems to be proliferating like cinematic cockroaches. R.V. is cut from the same bolt of polyester as Cheaper by the Dozen, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Yours, Mine and Ours, Johnson Family Vacation, Are We There Yet?, The Shaggy Dog and goodness knows how many other exercises in mediocrity made in the name of “family comedies.”
They all operate on a similar premise: Take one name star (never mind tailoring the film to his talents) and subject him to humiliations various and sundry — all involving children who make you reconsider your principled objections to corporal punishment and, quite possibly, the Spanish Inquisition. Then turn everything around during the final reel by pouring treacle over it, so that everyone learns a valuable life lesson and turns over a new leaf of patience, love and understanding, with images of a picture-perfect future that would have embarrassed Norman Rockwell at his most Rockwellian.
It’s not exactly coincidental that the screenwriter here, Geoff Rodkey, also signed his name to The Shaggy Dog and Daddy Day Care. In fact, this retread of National Lampoon’s Vacation — by way of Johnson Family Vacation — plays very much like The Shaggy Dog without the fantasticated trappings.
Similar to its ilk, R.V. offers story of a neglectful dad (Williams) who has to learn to put his career aside in order to learn what’s truly valuable in life. And since this is a work of fiction, he can ultimately do this without plunging himself and his family into poverty. It’s the same old anti-success bromide being hawked by folks who are themselves out for a fat paycheck — and it’s just as phony as it was back in the 1920s when the most successful tunesmiths of their age, Messrs. DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, assured the public that “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
The message here is bundled in a concoction of low and horrifyingly predictable slapstick that pits star Williams against a motor home he can’t drive, his own disagreeable family, a brace of rampaging raccoons, a family of improbably over-educated backwoods types, and an extremely unpleasant RV sewage tank. That last is the major comedic set-piece of the film and is the perfect indicator of the movie’s level of humor. In other words, if you’ve ever wanted to see Robin Williams covered in what the film coyly refers to as “fecal matter,” this is your movie. Otherwise … well, you’ve been warned. Rated PG for crude humor, innuendo and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke