I’m coining a new term to describe a formerly humorous comedian abruptly plummeting from his/her apex of hilarity to the depths of something like, say, “The Pink Panther.” I call it “Martinization,” named for the pioneer in such meteoric declines in quality, Mr. Steve Martin himself. Martin’s occasionally surrealistic stand-up routines and early movies are still the stuff of legend, but the man hasn’t been funny on screen since 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
One could argue that Robin Williams’ plunge began way back when he stopped doing drugs and started making treacly bilge like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Patch Adams.” Williams, like Martin, has redeemed himself somewhat with critically lauded dramatic roles in films like “One Hour Photo” and what I thought was a nice darkly comic turn in “Death to Smoochy.” As far as regular comedy goes, however, Williams has lost whatever edge he once possessed, and “RV” marks the new low water mark for the once and future Mork.
Williams plays Bob Munro, a white collar drone of some sort who is forced to abruptly change his family’s vacation plans when his evil boss (played by Will Arnett, best known as GOB Bluth from “Arrested Development”) tells him he’s needed to make a presentation to a hesitant client. Ditching plans to fly to sunny Hawaii, Bob rents a garish recreational vehicle and inexplicably lies to his family about why they suddenly need to drive to Colorado instead.
What follows plays a lot like “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” only without that film’s refreshing sense of cruelty. Bob is an insufferable milquetoast, and one who – in keeping with modern cinematic depictions of fatherhood – find himself incapable of telling his stay-at-home wife (Cheryl Hines) and bratty, distant kids (alleged pop singer JoJo and “Zathura’s” Josh Hutcherson) the real reason why they’re heading for the Rockies instead of Maui. Predictably, he attempts to work on his presentation while the fam’s asleep, in between oh-so hilarious battles with the r.v.’s septic system and a family of wily raccoons.
Of course, there’s another family on the road making the Munros’ lives difficult. The Gornickes are every traveler’s nightmare: a group of motorized Flanderses whose idea of a good time is an impromptu hoedown followed by a screening of “Ernest Goes to Camp.” Leaving aside this grievous insult to the memory of the dear departed Jim Varney, Travis and Marie Jo (Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth) are actually successful, educated folk, designed solely to help the studios court those filthy rubes in flyover country by acting like Hollywood doesn’t view everyone who home schools their children as knuckle-dragging fundamentalists.
The recreational vehicle has a long and storied tradition in American cinema, from “Damnation Alley” to “Lost in America” to “Stripes.” Sadly, “RV” shares little of its namesake’s nationwide appeal. Daniels is oddly appealing, JoJo is a poor man’s Lindsay Lohan, and Chenoweth has large breasts, but that’s about it. Williams isn’t completely horrible, but one particular scene, in which he lies cowering on the ground as a shower of fecal matter rains down upon him, says more about the quality of humor in this movie than anything I could ever write.