Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque, Josh Hutcherson, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth, Hunter Parrish, Chloe Sonnenfeld, Alex Ferris, Will Arnett"/>
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With: Robin Williams, Cheryl Hines, Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque, Josh Hutcherson, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth, Hunter Parrish, Chloe Sonnenfeld, Alex Ferris, Will Arnett
Written by: Geoff Rodkey
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
MPAA Rating: PG for crude humor, innuendo and language
Running Time: 98
Date: 04/28/2006

RV (2006)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Motor Groan

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

RV is another one of those movies wherein characters must eventually empty the septic tank on their motor home; everyone -- the actors, the director, the audience -- knows that someone will soon be covered in feces, but the film goes through with the tired joke anyway.

Rated "PG for crude humor, innuendo and language," Barry Sonnenfeld's new film is clearly crafted with small viewers -- who never tire of poo jokes -- in mind. But its main theme circles around growing teenagers and their deteriorating relationships with their parents.

RV opens with an odd, touching little prologue in which little Cassie (Erika-Shaye Gair) enjoys a manic puppet show put on by her father, Bob Munro (Robin Williams). She tells her daddy that she never wants to get married; she just wants to stay with him.

Cut to years later. Cassie is a teenager, now played by pop star Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque, who thinks her dad is an idiot.

It doesn't help that Bob's job at a soda company is on the skids. His boss, Todd (Will Arnett) continually threatens to replace Bob's job with a younger, less-skilled brownnose.

Just as Bob and his family, including wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines) and younger son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) are about to depart for a Hawaiian summer vacation, Todd orders Bob to sit in on a merger talk in Colorado.

Rather than telling his family about this trouble, he changes their travel plans and rents an RV for the drive. This way, the family can "get to know one another better."

Sonnenfeld wants to sell this story to all age groups, but he miscalculates and crosses wires, touching little grown-up moments with more dimwitted juvenile stuff.

The expected chaos ensues, from minor family tiffs to larger troubles, like an errant seatbelt, bad maneuverability, a raccoon infestation, rain, steep hills and a lake. Plus, Bob must hide from the rest of his family the fact that he actually has to work.

Perhaps most obnoxious is another road-bound family, the Gornickes. Played by Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth, Hunter Parrish, Chloe Sonnenfeld (Barry's daughter) and Alex Ferris, they always seem to show up wherever the Munros are. Unlike the Munros (and, indeed, most other families) the Gornickes get along swell, complete with sing-a-longs and constant good cheer.

The biggest casualty to the movie's schizophrenia is Robin Williams, who winds up playing more of an uptight, worrying straight man than his more comfortable wild man role. His family continually describes him as a goofball, but the movie shows little evidence of this lighter side.

Sonnenfeld, who started as a hip, clever cinematographer to the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing) before turning into a hip, clever director himself, once had a nice touch for comedy with sly commentary: Addams Family Values (1993), Get Shorty (1995) and Men in Black (1997), not to mention work on two immensely enjoyable television shows (both unsurprisingly cancelled in their prime), "Maximum Bob" and "The Tick."

But something happened; either Sonnenfeld grew comfortable or lazy or just went a little nuts, and his films turned bad, flaunting a stupidity as big as their bloated budgets as in Wild Wild West (1999) and Men in Black II (2002).

Or maybe he's just burned out? His Big Trouble (2002) suffered because of terrorist-related subject matter and a release date set too close to 9/11. Subsequently, he was unceremoniously fired from the 2004 Lemony Snicket movie.

Regardless, as evidenced by appearances on the Letterman show and by other testimonies, Sonnenfeld is still something of a nut, still full of unique life. So it's more than a little surprising to see his name attached to a movie that is so completely routine, so thuddingly bland, and so disappointingly safe.

Coincidentally, and in Sonnenfeld's defense, Warner Home Video will soon be releasing Vincente Minnelli's The Long, Long Trailer (1954) on DVD. A Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz comedy along the same lines, it proves that trailer humor was never really very funny in the first place.

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