For reasons I can’t fully explain, I don’t actually despise Robin Williams. I understand completely that the man’s name is synonymous with Blockbuster Schmuck, and that over the course of his career he’s flooded our multiplexes with more sentimental detritus than any celluloid landfill could possibly hold. And, for a guy who spent a good part of his early life coked to the gills and who is unabashedly political, you’d imagine he’d have a bit more of an edge to his work (One Hour Photo, sarcastically notwithstanding).
But he is what he is and, as treacly and unpleasant as most of his films are, it’s hard not to like the guy in a personal sense. Or maybe it’s just because my early childhood was defined to some degree by “Mork and Mindy”; my high-school worldview was shaped in part by Dead Poets Society; the first movie I saw after graduating college was Good Will Hunting; and it’s simply hard not to respect a guy who failed so miserably in a movie like Death to Smoochy and yet still manages to crawl out of bed each morning and pretend to still have some relevance in Hollywood beyond taking paternal roles in the family comedies that Steve Martin turns down. So, I’m willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt, and head into each of his films with a clean slate, knowing full well that I’ll probably walk out despondent and angry at the weepy half-wits in attendance who actually fell for the swollen violins and the crinkly squint that Williams will flash when he’s not doing manic impressions of celebrities with even less cultural capital than he does (seriously, Robin: it’s time to hang up the Nicholson, Stallone, Reagan, Fierstein and Ethel Merman impersonations; they were merely tolerable in 1986 — now, it’s just kind of pathetic).
Anyway, RV is about what you’ve come to expect from Robin Williams in his late career — a bland family comedy aimed at a generation that perhaps has forgotten or is unfamiliar with National Lampoon’s Vacation or at love-sick fathers who think that dragging their children to a film like this might be a healthier way toward family bonding than spending actual time with them. There is a scene early on in the film, actually, that sums up about all you need to know about RV. In it, the Munro family has just stopped at their first RV park. Unfamiliar with how to empty the sewage reservoir, Bob Munro (Williams) is assisted in hooking up the pipes by a few of his less-than-intelligent RV-neighbors; the scene drags on long enough for a large number of spectators to amass around them and watch as, ultimately, the pipe backs up and bursts, covering Bob in a avalanche of fecal matter. It would be a largely unremarkable scene, if not for the fact that it may be the most brilliantly unintentional bit of meta filmmaking in the history of cinema.
In all other respects, however, RV is about as predictable as you can imagine: The Munro family have grown apart to the point that they are instant-messaging each other to come to dinner and, when Bob’s boss (Will Arnett doing G.O.B. again, which is never as funny without the rest of the “AD” clan to work off of) insists that he cancel the family vacation to Hawaii to attend an “important” business meeting to deliver the pitch about an “important” corporate merger or else get shitcanned, Bob (on the advice of a co-worker played by Tony Hale, aka Buster — again, not so funny without the hook) decides that it’s a good idea to turn his business trip into a family vacation via RV. Along the way, the usual family comedy vacation mishaps occur (see Johnson Family Vacation, Are We There Yet? and the entire Chevy Chase oeuvre) — they drive over things, they discover raccoons living in the oven, they get stuck out in the rain, blah blah blah. They also end up meeting another RV family, the Gornickes (undoubtedly taken from the same mold as Cousin Eddie’s family), white-trash hangers-on who follow the Munros across country because … well, because they do. Jeff Daniels, as Travis Gornicke, is admittedly hilarious, but only inasmuch as you might find it amusing that the professorial guy from The Squid and the Whale is asked here to act giddy about watching Ernest Goes to Jail. Cheryl Hines, who plays Bob’s wife, Jamie, is also decent in another role that — like her Cheryl David character — asks her to convince the audience to suspend its disbelief long enough to actually consider that she’d deign to wed a guy like Bob.
Otherwise, the Munros fight and bitch and fuss until ultimately they are all so overcome with the ridiculousness of their lot that they bond over their shared misery. And, ironically, the same thing happened to me while I was watching RV. As a critic who nearly always attends the first showing on a Friday, I am usually met with mostly empty theaters. But, for reasons that I suspect had to do with local welfare office handing out free tickets with their government cheese, there were a substantial smattering of folks in attendance this morning, all of whom looked like they’d just rolled up in their own RVs to take in the showing. And because, as far as I can reckon, their thresholds for humor had been so lowered by an antediluvian mindset that had been conditioned to laugh at episodes of “Cops,” these people actually found RV amusing. Actually, amusing would be an understatement: These people were falling out of their motorized wheelchairs, they were laughing so hard. There was an elderly lady who must have lived through 47,000 cartons of Winstons who had to take extra hits of oxygen just so she could catch her breath; I’m telling you, they were hooting and clapping. Clapping! And, by the three-quarter mark, the wheezing and applause actually got so infectious, so illogical, that I couldn’t help but laugh myself, mostly at the sheer absurdity of it all.
Grown men and women. Laughing at a Robin Williams movie. In 2006.
Now, I’ve seen it all. God Bless the Stupidity of America.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below."It's a Long Way Down / Holiday Road"
Film | May 15, 2006 | Comments ()