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Watching the mattress-soft family comedy RV (2006), it's easy to forget that director Barry Sonnenfeld has his fingerprints all over some of the best film comedy of the past two decades. It's not that RV is inept. It isn't. It's just that it's yet another aggressively inoffensive family road-trip movie — only with Robin Williams in the Clark Griswold role — and it's pleasant and formulaic and nice-looking without bothering to be terribly funny. But come on: Barry Sonnenfeld was the cinematographer on Raising Arizona, Throw Momma from the Train, Big, and When Harry Met Sally. Then, with 1991's The Addams Family, he became a director, and for a decade — in the Addams films, Get Shorty, and Men in Black — Sonnenfeld was masterful at turning his deadpan, lightly morbid sensibility into popular art. Unfortunately, his brilliant live-action "Tick" was jerked around by TV executives, Wild Wild West and Men in Black II underwhelmed, he left A Series of Unfortunate Events over budget issues, and the fire (if not the craft) just seemed to go out of the guy's work. Until RV, Sonnenfeld hadn't directed a feature in four years, choosing instead to helm TV pilots and sparkle neurotically on Letterman. Apologies for dwelling on the creative burp in Barry Sonnenfeld's career, but it's a vastly more interesting subject than RV itself. The movie's about a cola-company PR exec named Bob (Williams) who takes his perpetually unimpressed family (Cheryl Hines, Joanna "JoJo" Levesque, and Josh Hutcherson) on a cross-country road trip in a rented motor home. For contrived reasons, Bob's also secretly trying to write a corporate-merger presentation and give it in Colorado behind his family's back, and… it's not important. Really. The story's just a non-stick pan in which to fry a bunch of easy jokes about snotty kids, dumb hicks, wild animals, errant sewage sprays, and RV crashes. It's perfectly safe, soft-edged family entertainment. Like this writer, you may crack a few smiles and laugh, like, twice. The cast is solid. Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth are fun as the heads of a strange, likable white-trash family. And Williams does a nice job throwing away lines like "Thank you" after each insult by his two-dimensionally snarly wife and daughter. With the exception of one long improv riff on a campground basketball court, Williams nicely underplays his role. Unfortunately, Sonnenfeld also underplays his — and not in a good way. We should expect more of him. Sony's DVD release of RV features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a Telestrator commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld, a gag reel (4 min.), five featurettes, three "RV Reveries" outtakes, and an alternate scene. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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