Caravan of Hate

It took considerably more effort that is usually required to recall the events of RV, a misbegotten family comedy whose true depths of malignant ineptitude can only be succinctly described in hot, harsh, ineloquent words. Suffice to say that in my house we know him as Robin Fucking Williams.

The untrammelled horror involved in surrendering oneself to his desperate mugging is returned threefold when RV's twinned spectaculars of waste and unfunniness are remembered later. The film does end, thank the good Lord, after about an hour and a half of pointless, poorly-timed pratfalls, but the pain of it endures.

In terms of harrowing, knuckle-whitening cinema RV puts United 93 in the ha’penny place. Like, seriously.

Fizzy drink executive Bob Munro (Williams), his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines) and their two bratty children (JoJo Levesque and Josh Hutcherson) take a family vacation across America (actually Canada) because his obnoxious boss Todd (Will Arnett from Arrested Development) has ordered him to make a presentation in Boulder, Colorado. For some reason unable to admit he might be called away to attend to his livelihood during the trip, Bob rents a huge recreational vehicle, puts everybody in and starts driving. The van comes with a gigantic photograph of director Barry Sonnenfeld on its side, in a suitably delicate cameo. He is not blushing in the picture, although he should be.

The first night on the road, they meet the over-friendly Gornicke family -- Travis and Mary Jo (Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth) and their kids. For some reason, they take a liking to the Munros. For some even more unfathomable reason, they are upset when the feelings are not reciprocated. The film then sets a pattern of the Munro’s getting into difficulty (with racoons, faulty brakes, lost computers) and the country & western yodelling Gornicke’s getting them out of it.

Although he has given a decent account of himself as a straight dramatic actor in films like Dead Poets Society and Insomnia, Robin Williams hasn’t made me laugh since 1983. The curious thing is he is never just plain old bad when he is bad (which is most of the time), he has to be apocalyptically bad. There is a bit in RV where Mork does a five minute impression of an African American basketball player talking trash on the court, a breathtakingly embarrassing scene that alone, in a career littered with cringes, would see him in the dock in The Hague if the film critics ruled the world. How is this, presumably semi-improv, rant funny when it smacks of racism and more to the point, how does that comes under the heading of children’s entertainment? Maybe the situations involving the handling of poo, which Williams does often and at length, are supposed to be the fun stuff. Even hepatitis doesn't want him.

Chevy Chase cobbled some semblance of a career from this genre of family vacation comedies and although it burns to admit it, each of the five or so National Lampoons are like Citizen Kane when compared to this frightful misfire, which played out in total silence, save the occasional tut of impatience, at the screening I attended. Nobody laughed, because there was nothing to laugh at.

There are a small few interesting nuggets of character and situation nestled among the detritus that address modern urban living and balancing work and family, but they are drowned out by the roar of William’s murderously frantic capering and comedy as broad as all outdoors. Two thirds of the film is given over to the hairy little gnome running, cycling or driving at a pace calibrated to a degree just below heart failure. Not a single frame of it has any value as comic entertainment, with the rushing about merely bringing the failings of the remainder of the underwritten, unashamedly larcenous screenplay into sharper contrast. Williams’ wide-eyed physical exertions are later replaced with a few dewy eyed sermons about family love and integrity so laden with Hollywood sugar they should come with a warning for diabetics. Message delivered, Sonnenfeld goes back to the diarrhoea gags. It is impossible to gauge which is worse.

Nobody emerges from the wreckage of RV with their dignity intact. Williams can forget about it, and good riddance, but it is sad to see Jeff Daniels reduced to this level with the brilliant Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm wasted completely in role that only requires her to tilt her head sympathetically and smile a big smile. To her credit, she doesn’t appear to be enjoying herself much and you won’t either.

No comments: