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"RV"
(2006) (Robin Williams, Cheryl Hines) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Rather than go on a Hawaiian vacation as planned, a man takes his family on an impromptu cross-country RV trip so that he can attend an important business meeting.
PLOT:
Once upon a time, Bob Munro (ROBIN WILLIAMS) was close with his young daughter. But Cassie (JOANNA "JOJO" LEVESQUE) is now a typical teenager who wants little to do with him or her mom Jamie (CHERYL HINES), thus reinforcing the need for their anticipated vacation in Hawaii with Cassie's 12-year-old brother Carl (JOSH HUTCHERSON).

Unfortunately for Bob, his boss at Vibe Soda -- Todd Mallory (WILL ARNETT) -- doesn't really care, especially since they're looking at the potential acquisition of another company. Accordingly, Bob must cancel their plans and instead head to Colorado for an important pitch meeting. Knowing that won't sit well with the wife or kids, he gets the idea to rent an RV and drive from Los Angeles to Boulder. They hate the idea, but he convinces Jamie it's for quality time with their kids and she reluctantly agrees.

From the get-go, most everything that can go wrong does, including the Munros meeting the Gornicke family at an RV camp. Travis (JEFF DANIELS) and Mary Jo (KRISTIN CHENOWETH) are full-time RVers, a happy go lucky couple raising and educating their kids - Earl (HUNTER PARRISH), Moon (CHLOE SONNENFELD) and Billy (ALEX FERRIS) -- on the road. From that point on, the Munros repeatedly try to elude them, all as Bob secretly tries to get his work done at night, covertly leads the trip toward his big meeting, and must contend with one setback after another.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
A funny thing happened at our screening of the latest Robin Williams comedy, "RV." It's not something that occurred on purpose or in the movie, per se, but had more to do with how the film was projected on the screen. You see, there are different aspect ratios (height to width) that can be used when shooting a movie, and as long as the same is used while projecting the film on the screen, everything is hunky-dory.

But if the wrong combination is used, everyone and everything in the film can end up looking ultra tall and skinny. It happens every once in a while, but is usually remedied fairly quickly. For reasons never explained (and despite one brief but failed attempt to correct the erroneous setting), our presentation remained this way for quite a while.

As a result, Williams and company looked quite stretched, and a later introduced plot element about his son being short for his age was only reinforced by the fact that we could only see the top of his head. The family vehicle ended up looking like one of those tiny clown cars from which everyone pours out, while the titular object -- those recreational vehicles that sometimes seem as if they're a city block long -- was suddenly the length of a car but incredibly tall.

It's too bad not everyone will see the movie this way because, sadly, that's about the funniest thing the film offered us (albeit unintentionally). And if only Williams could have possibly known about the technical snafu, he could have probably had some fun ad-libbing about the visually distorted material. Alas, he wasn't and doesn't really seem to have been given the chance for anything else in this lame and often forced comedy that -- I was shocked to have discovered -- was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the guy behind "Men in Black" and "Get Shorty."

But then I remembered he also directed "Big Trouble" and "Wild Wild West," so perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, although the broadly played, dumbed-down and repetitive comedy is nevertheless quite a chore to sit through (some might say, hmmm, that it's like an RV road trip across the country with one's constantly complaining family).

As in most such comedies, there is potential lurking about somewhere inside, under or just behind the omnipresent recreational vehicle. As conceived by Geoff Rodkey (who previously penned "The Shaggy Dog" and "Daddy Day Care"), that revolves around the comic misadventures of non-RVers traveling hundreds of miles in such a vehicle.

Alas, none of that nor the bits about Williams' character covertly trying to get his work done -- including not getting any sleep at night and then sneaking off to an important meeting on this "vacation only" trip -- are smart, imaginative or funny enough to make this journey worthwhile. During that particular meeting, Bob does an inspirational pitch about selling a product that everyone can fall in love with, and it's unfortunate the filmmakers didn't take that to heart.

There's never any doubt that through all of the adversity, complications and misfortune that befalls the family (played by Cheryl Hines, "Jojo" Levesque and Josh Hutcherson), they'll eventually become a closer unit. One could accept such inevitableness and predictability if the film had its heart and funny bone properly aligned and the pedal pressed firmly to the metal, but the film misfires from the get-go, thus -- in a way -- paralleling its own plot.

As this is a "family comedy," young kids may enjoy the mayhem and seeing the dad character in over his head. But for everyone else, the gags of Williams driving over or into various objects, being unable to get his seatbelt on, the RV lacking a parking brake, and especially an extended sequence where Bob, his son and others try to rid the RV of its previous occupants' sewage simply fall flat and, I suppose, appropriately enough, stink up the place.

The most prevalent and recurring gag features Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth as that usual Hollywood construct - the obnoxiously cheery couple who unintentionally terrorize the "normal" folk with their actions, tales and in the case of Daniels' armpit, odors. Shock of all shocks, they turn out to be decent people and our protagonists are the real cads, but - natch -- everything turns out okay in the end.

I'm guessing adhering to the PG rating kept the filmmakers from dipping into the sort of black comedy material needed to pull off that scenario (think of the aunt and dog in "National Lampoon's Vacation"), and the result is just as grating, boring and unfunny as the rest of the film.

And hemmed in by those constraints and a lame script, Williams simply can't do much of anything with the forced and recycled material other than occasionally say "my bad." Indeed. A road trip movie straight from comedy hell that figuratively (and literally in our case) stretches for laughs, "RV" rates as a 2.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 22, 2006 / Posted April 28, 2006


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