A geyser of shit is the central visual image in RV, a perky-seeming family film. Everybody pulls up a lawn chair to watch Robin Williams wrestle with the toilet tank tubes at the dump station. This is one battle in the film’s war of white collar against blue, technology versus nature, ironic versus primal. Forgive my search for meaning in a fecal storm.
Robin Williams plays Bob Monro, a corporate dealmaker for a multinational sugary beverage company. Forced to cancel his family’s Hawaiian vacation when his boss insists that he help close a merger in Colorado, he opts to take his family on the trip in a rented RV. Mom (Cheryl Hines of TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) loves Dad but loves to criticize his driving. Teen-age sister’s a pouty vegetarian. Little brother’s a pint-sized weightlifter. Above all, the Monros are a family with a lifestyle to maintain. As Dad observes, “We watch TV in four separate rooms and IM each other when it’s time for dinner.”
The setup is that Dad doesn’t want to tell his family he’s got to make the meeting or lose his job to a young gun. So he sneaks away to write his presentation on his laptop in a crapper in an RV park in Utah, hoping in vain for a wireless connection. Later he perches on a boulder to compose on a Blackberry, thrusting it toward the heavens and any available satellite. Images of electronic devices in the context of wilderness have an odd power in what seems like a throw-away movie.
The screenplay (by Geoff Rodkey, writer of Daddy Day Care) makes a lot of the contrast between slick Pasadena and feral Colorado. The RV way of life, complete with sudden mudslides, roadkill stew and kooky strangers, forces the too-comfortable Monros into a new awareness of family togetherness — and an embrace of scatology. They dub their RV “the big rolling turd.”
This year Robin Williams is old enough to join the AARP. RV is his noble attempt at physical comedy. He single-handedly works to unhinge the RV from a rocky precipice. He fakes constipation to distract his family. He gives his gag reflex a workout. He also sneaks in an extended ghetto slang monologue.
Too bad Williams can’t carry the film alone. Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth (The West Wing) overdo it as the Gornickes, an eccentric family who annoy and assist the Monros with loopy sing-alongs, relentless optimism and masterful RVing skills.
Behind the sunny, slapstick stylings of RV lurks a movie about fear: fear of nature and dirt and poop, coupled with the fear of resource depletion, of the end of convenience. The ending is admirably ambiguous. Credit director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) with disguising an explosive subject in a candy wrapper.