Though every film should, at least to some degree, be judged on its own merits, relativity does affect how critics see movies. And after suffering through Cheaper by the Dozen 1 and 2, Yours, Mine and Ours, and Daddy Day Care, my expectations for RV were extremely low. So color me surprised when Barry Sonnenfeld's family comedy turned out to be a palatable picture that doesn't rob Robin Williams of his dignity as a comic actor (I'm looking at you, Steve Martin).
Williams plays Bob Munro, the patriarch of a family that's been drifting apart. When his boss demands a business trip to Colorado, Dad sees an opportunity to pack his family into the close quarters of an RV for a bonding experience. Naturally, everything that can go wrong does go wrong until all ends well, but if you can accept the formula and brief lapses into kiddie-pandering extremity (a silly "waterslide" bit and an RV-surfing bit), RV is a good time at the movies.
Williams hasn't been this appealing in a comedy in a decade (a bit of restraint becomes him), Cheryl Hines is dryly funny as his wife, and Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth are hilarious as the Flanders-esque parents of an annoyingly happy, Southern-fried family that lives on the road. Chenoweth's perky perfection compliments Daniels' alternating frozen smile and self-flagellating frown ("I was quick to think the worst," he confesses at one point. "I am filled with chagrin.") Meanwhile, Arrested Development fans will dig the appearances by Bluth brothers Will Arnett and Tony Hale.
Despite a tendency to pander to its demos, Sonnenfeld holds his ground enough to get a pass; to turn America's RV parks into cartoons, the director mines all the tricks he learned when photographing Raising Arizona. Geoff Rodkey's script (other writers went "stealth") has some funny lines, like the exclamation of sarcastic daughter Cassie (Joanna "JoJo" Levesque) "What do they like about us?! We're not even that appealing!"
RV is a fantasy, but it's engine is in the right place, and with its plug for responsible business practices and plea for a red state-blue state summit, it may even be just a little bit subversive. With a PG-rating, RV is both family-friendly and funny.