Robin Williams has officially given up. A few years ago, the once-bankable comic superstar exiled himself to indie-land, apparently to pay penance for feel-good dreck like Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man. What followed was a string of dour, pinched performances of strained "serious acting": the creepy stalker in One Hour Photo, the futuristic funeral director in The Final Cut and the mentally challenged janitor in House of D.
Now, as if to admit defeat, Williams has returned to the crap that used to pay the bills: big, loud, painfully obvious family-friendly movies where he flails his arms, mugs for the camera and "improvises" in funny accents. RV is a sanitized, politically correct retread of such slapstick '80s vacation comedies as National Lampoon's Vacation and Summer Rental. Uneven as they were, those movies at least had a gonzo, go-for-broke, grown-up irreverence to them. In RV, Williams isn't even allowed to say "shit" instead of "fecal matter."
The poop jokes begin early, and never let up. Williams plays affluent Malibu family man Bob Munro, a workaholic corporate drone so fearful of losing his job that he cancels the Munro family vacation in Hawaii so he can attend a Colorado business meeting. Lest his family think he's neglecting them, Bob rents the behemoth vehicle of the film's title, and pretends that they're all going on a cross-country bonding trip. High jinks ensue. Bob wrecks the rented RV's parking brake (cue lots of "unexpected" rolling away), ruins the neighbors' yard by backing out of the driveway (cue the smashed lamppost) and jams the bathroom sewage pipe (cue the literal shit-storm).
Each new misadventure fills you with dread. When the Munros discover a raccoon family lodging in their oven, you wince not because you sympathize with them, but because you know you're in for 10 minutes of fake feral-animal sounds, computer-animated critters and more Williams flailing. Director Barry Sonnenfeld used to make gently subversive Hollywood entertainment; his Addams Family Values was a celebration of outcasts and misfits. Here, he asks us to laugh at a tasteless, conservative Texan couple (Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth), then gives us the condescending lesson that they're people too awww and they're better parents than Bob and his wife Jamie (Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines). "Sometimes if you want to succeed, you just have to do what they tell you," Bob's daughter says at one point, attempting to understand her dad's work. She might as well be describing Robin Williams' strategy for choosing roles.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].