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"RV" comedy won't make for many happy campers

The fumes of old Robin Williams gags can't save this lampoon we've seen before.

April 28, 2006|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

That noxious odor emitting from the comedy "RV" as it barrels down the highway on its way to home video is desperation. A barely concealed rip-off of "National Lampoon's Vacation," this Barry Sonnenfeld-directed, Robin Williams-starring misfire spits out one failed gag after another as it tries to disguise its lack of originality.

The movie opens with Williams' Bob Munro amusing his young daughter, Cassie, with a sock puppet called the "tickle monster." Williams breaks into a familiar Sylvester Stallone impersonation delighting the girl but sending a clear distress signal to the audience. Cassie then tells her father that she never wants to get married because she always wants to live with him.

Uh-oh. We've seen recycled Robin and schmaltzy Robin, and it's only five minutes into the film. Unfortunately, by the end of "RV," you'll be wishing there had been more vintage Robin just to have made things a little funnier.

The movie fast-forwards to the present and high-schooler Cassie (teen pop star Joanna "JoJo" Levesque) loathes her dad. His job as an executive at a soda pop conglomerate keeps the family -- which also includes wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines) and son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) -- in a cushy Pasadena lifestyle, but between their laptops, Blackberries and cellphones, they barely acknowledge one another's existence.

A family vacation to Hawaii before the kids head off to summer camp and college prep is meant to change all that until Bob is given an ultimatum by his unctuous boss (Will Arnett). Bob must write up a proposal and deliver it in Colorado by the end of the week or lose his job. Postponing the family trip is out because of the kids' schedule, so Bob impulsively rents the ugliest recreational vehicle on the face of the earth and launches a harebrained plan to furtively do his work while the family motors across the western United States. Jamie, Cassie and Carl are less than enthused about the change of plans, but before you can sing a few bars of "Holiday Road," the Munros set out to be the Griswolds of the 21st century.

Predictable misadventures ensue with less Williams shtick than one might imagine and more of the kind of broad pratfall humor that gave Chevy Chase so much back pain. Geoff Rodkey's screenplay drags out the slow, expected destruction of the RV in ways the audience will see coming way in advance. The main dramatic tension, aside from the fact that the Munros don't like one another much, comes from the fact that Bob has concealed his true reason for taking the trip. It's a device that doesn't make much sense since keeping his job would seem to be in the best interest of everyone involved.

The only people in the film who appear to be having any fun are Jeff Daniels and Kristen Chenoweth as Travis and Mary Jo Gornicke whose preternaturally perky family goes RVing full time (in a rather cool, converted 1948 Flxible Clipper bus) and befriends the hapless Munros. As laborious as it is to watch Williams wrestle with an uncooperative seat-belt, it's even more grueling to see him play straight man and whipping boy to everyone else in the film.

Williams in a repressive role is not a pretty sight. Flipping his and Daniels' parts might have added some laughs but the film still would have floundered in the wake of all the other enforced-family-fun-road-trip movies that have preceded it.

The bedraggled movie limps along to its phony hogwash of an ending, adding the ignominy of sentimentality to its previous sin of being so derivative. When it comes to being road-tested for laughs, "RV" is no Wagon Queen Family Truckster, that's for sure.



MPAA rating: PG for crude humor, innuendo and language

A Columbia Pictures presentation, released by Sony Pictures Distribution. Director Barry Sonnenfeld. Producers Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick. Screenplay by Geoff Rodkey. Director of photography Fred Murphy. Editor Kevin Tent. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

In general release.

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