They're no Griswolds 

Familiar road-trip comedy R.V. sputters along.

The screenwriter (Geoff Rodkey) of The Shaggy Dog and Daddy Day Care is back, and this time the results are ... not horrible?

In the last weekend of Hollywood's spring season, the last before Mission: Impossible III kick-starts the summer by no doubt dominating the box office, Columbia Pictures foisted R.V. upon the American public. As entertainment, R.V. is balsa wood light, but as a moral compass, it sinks like so much scrap iron. The balance between the two tips in favor of entertainment often enough -- and successfully so, in its modest way -- that R.V. sputters down the road but never actually breaks down.

Robin Williams stars as Bob, patriarch of the Munro family. Forced by his boss to cancel his scheduled Hawaiian family vacation in order to attend a very important meeting in Colorado, Bob hatches the plan to rent an R.V. and take the family there under the false pretenses of a vacation, not revealing his occupational ulterior motive.

Here Williams is in full Clark Griswold mode (from the National Lampoon's Vacation movies). In R.V., Williams actually tones down his manic, stream-of-consciousness style of comedy, embracing a possibly Ritalin-induced level of calm comedy. No one wants to see Williams purposefully make a fool out of himself yet again. The few times Williams cannot contain himself, the film (and the audience) wilts like a flower in direct sunlight.

Cheryl Hines co-stars as Mrs. Munro, a thankless role that only gives her a few moments to stretch her legs. When she does occasionally get a pitch to hit, she puts it into play. Jeff Daniels supports as the head of the Gornicke clan, R.V.-lifestyle devotees. Daniels acts as R.V.'s own Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid in Vacation and its sequels). That the film's primary running gag -- the Munros keep running into the Gornickes across the great American West -- sounds so limpid but actually wrings a few laughs from the audience is a credit to the talents of Daniels and his on-screen wife, Kristin Chenoweth. An astute casting agent has also placed Arrested Development siblings Gob (Will Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale) in the film, with Arnett getting his scoundrel on as Bob's boss and Hale playing a cynical co-worker.

That R.V. tends toward soapbox sentimentality isn't heartbreaking: The movie isn't all that great to begin with. But it's still painful to watch unfold, especially since it has a hard time deciding upon which morals to stand. It flirts with a sell-all-possessions message, even as it has its characters decide to accept a corporate way of life that is ostensibly pious because they will be making tons of money on their own terms. R.V. also spices its script with sermons about the value of family time and honesty in relationships.

R.V. is best when it's not nice to its characters. As satire, the film gathers some speed and seems to be going somewhere. Overall, though, the movie plays out as straight, rehashed comedy, a parking break en route to any pleasurable movie experience, to be sure.

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