May 4, 2006

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R.V. (PG)
Robin Williams makes even our teenage-years-impression of our own parents seem so much less embarrassing and pitiable by comparison in R.V., a painful slog of a family comedy.

When I was a young teenager, my mother frequently committed the grievous sin of actually talking to my friends (sometimes even, offering them snacks!). My father frequently made us participate in activities as a family thereby completely killing any shot I had at convincing the world that I, at 13, was actually a 22-year-old writer with a fantastic job and my own apartment (where I could stay up as late as I wanted!). And yet still, these horrors visited upon me by my parents are nothing compared to any given moment of embarrassment committed by Robin Williams as dad Bob Munro in R.V. Why, you ask?

Because while my parents loved us kids and cared about our well-being and all the rest of that parental hooey, they didn't try to be our pals. At the end of the day, a raised eyebrow or a use of the full name in an escalating volume indicated that not only was I in trouble but I had better not try any defiance or sass-back in an attempt to brush it off. My parents might have laughed at the comic retort on television but they did not appreciate it when it happened live in their living room.

Here, the dad portrayed by Williams is the very picture of the sort of sniveling permissiveness that comes when parents want to ingratiate themselves to their children. They want to be buds, be chums and as a result all but beg their children for their respect. It is painfully embarrassing to watch, as though you've accidentally walked in on someone in the bathroom.

Not only is Bob a big weenie at home, he's sort of a doormat to his boss. When the germaphobe Todd (Will Arnett) tells Bob to cancel his Hawaiian vacation and take a business trip to help him with a potential merger, Bob quickly acquiesces, fearing that a younger more sycophantic employee will otherwise replace him. But, afraid though he is of his boss, Bob is even more afraid of his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines), to whom he had promised the tropical retreat. He decides to kill two humble, groveling little birds with one stone and rents an RV in which the family can travel to Colorado, the site of the business trip. This will give him time, he tells his wife, to better get to know his pissy daughter Cassie (Joanna "JoJo" Levesque) and his wannabe-rapper son Carl (Josh Hutcherson).

On the road, of course, the family encounters one misery after another, from Bob's ineptitude at operating the house-sized RV to the continual reappearance of RV-dwelling family the Gornickes (the mom of which is played by Kristin Chenoweth, the dad by Jeff Daniels). With their family singalongs and their homeschooled kids they are, the film tells us, the worst kind of yokels.

Of course, no movie can succeed if it's too anti-flyover-people and this movie redeems them in the end. Just as predictably, the bad-work-guys get their comeuppance and the Munro family Learns Valuable Lessons. And in between we get lots of jokes about RV toilets and bad driving. The movie is a paint-by-numbers version of the sort of comedy that is made exactly because it is suitable for family viewing -- not offensive to anyone and therefore not really entertaining anyone either.

The film might have even hoisted itself up a level or two from that kind of bargain-basement entertainment due to a handful of more-funny-than-stupid jokes and a surprisingly subdued Williams (perhaps he was too stunned at how awful his character was to do his usual shuck and jive). But the deep unpleasantness of the family relationship -- the bitchiness of the wife, the loserness of the husband, the insufferable aggravation of the teenagers -- was just too much. Though perhaps drawn to resemble the modern upwardly mobile family, the Munros are a mirror too horrible to look at. If my comedy must be brainless, give me the yokels any day. D


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