Barry Sonnenfeld was a cinematographer before he became a director, and was a favorite of the Coen Brothers, so he knows how to make a movie look good. In particular, he has a knack for framing a shot to achieve a sight gag.
This skill comes in handy in “RV,” where what few laughs are present are entirely visual in nature. I’m guessing he works very closely with his own cinematographers, because the films he directs (including “Men in Black” and “Get Shorty”) often employ the same camera movements and visual style as the ones he photographed (particularly the Coens’ “Raising Arizona”). He’ll position the camera and the actors in just the right way to catch the comedy, even when, as is the case for most of “RV,” there’s no comedy taking place.
Because Tim Allen was busy, I guess, Robin Williams stars as Bob Munro, a bumbling, workaholic dad who tries to make up for neglecting his wife and kids by taking them on an RV trip to Colorado. What they don’t know is that he HAS to go there for a business meeting. This whole “let’s spend more time together” thing is just a ruse.
Wouldn’t you know it, his wife, Jamie (Cheryl Hines), is pretty and formidable, his teenage daughter Cassie (Joanna Levesque) is surly and embarrassed of him, and his younger son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) is peculiar.
Wouldn’t you also know it, the RV is a rental, which means it must incur severe damage over the course of the film, and Bob must frequently run over things and knock things over and generally drive like an idiot. And even more wouldn’t you know it, there is a mishap with the RV’s toilet that results in a poo geyser.
Yes, friends, all the cliches of the road-trip comedy are present, including the scene where Bob runs afoul of wildlife (a raccoon, specifically). And in a special two-for-one offer, we also get the cliches of the workaholic-dad-learns-what’s-really-important comedy, right down to the finale where Bob tells his soulless boss (Will Arnett) to take this job and shove it.
The screenplay is by Geoff Rodkey, who also wrote “Daddy Day Care” and “The Shaggy Dog,” both belonging to the genre just mentioned. “RV” hits all the usual plot points as if working from a template, with very few legitimately funny lines. For example, as the result of the Munros meeting a corny Southern family (headed by Jeff Daniels), we get not one but TWO “Deliverance” references. (Actually, I have to believe that’s the work of Robin Williams, whose ad-lib comedy is often obsessed with homosexuality in general and “Deliverance” specifically.)
It’s been quite a few years since Williams has played a regular joe in a comedy, and it’s something he should do more often. When he’s reined in — i.e., not doing “funny” voices and rapid-fire pop-cultural references — he can be extremely likable. He needs a good script, too, which he doesn’t have here, but it’s nice to see a glimmer of hope.
Why would you see this movie? Well, you wouldn’t, and I’m not recommending that you do. It’s lame and uncreative. But it’s elevated to a status of juuuuust above a complete waste by Sonnenfeld’s visual acumen. You can tell a talented professional had his hand in it. Now, why a man with the gifts Sonnenfeld has would expend so much effort in making a poo geyser look interesting, I have no idea. But he did, and I’m grateful for small favors when watching movies like “RV.”
C (1 hr. 39 min.; )