Movie camp has received a bad rap for a long time. The mere mention of bat-nipples is enough to send comic geeks and movie connoisseurs alike into a frothing rage that should rightly make everyone involved with Batman and Robin quake with fear.
And yet who among us doesn’t have fond memories of Adam West and Burt Ward, living legends of camp, running around in bad costumes and vanquishing villains with a mighty “POW!” or “BASH!”?
RV doesn’t come close to that level of camp, but it is fun in very much the same way. Williams plays Bob Munro, the head of an upper-class family that has become emotionally distant. His formerly doting daughter is caught in the throes of teenage righteous alienation, his Eminem-esque son deals with an inferiority complex resulting from his small stature, and his married life has become a mind-numbing routine. He struggles to connect with his family while keeping ahead in a workplace that is passing him by in favor of a young business prodigy.
So when he is ordered by his boss to cancel his family’s Hawaii vacation to attend a meeting in Colorado, he opts to turn the family vacation into an RV trip to Colorado – without, of course, telling them about the meeting.
Add frequent run-ins with an overly friendly family of rednecks, headed by Jeff Daniels, and it sounds like a painfully overused Hollywood equation. Take one alienated family, drop them – begrudgingly – into a situation involving cramped quarters and constant closeness, and then add a few quirky supporting characters. Hilarity ensues.
The setup is so bad that when I told people what movie I was going to review, the first words out of their mouths were, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
I’ll admit, I was doubtful for the first few minutes. I was beginning to think that Williams had finally disappointed me with his choice of roles When the film hit its first truly overdone bit of campy schtick, it seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t stop wondering how long they could possibly draw out a sequence of such obvious, predictable “humor”.
But then something wonderful happened: in spite of myself, I began to laugh. The director, it seems, wasn’t as dumb as he first appeared. The length of the sequence became so absurd that I, and the rest of the audience, had no choice but to laugh.
That’s the genius of RV. Barry Sonnenfeld, director of such movies as The Addams Family, Get Shorty and Men in Black, didn’t try to take a campy script and make a serious film out of it. He took a campy script and made camp. Ridiculous, overdone, predictable camp. He took it to such a high level of camp that I couldn’t take it seriously on any level, and instead just sat back and allowed myself to enjoy it. And this is coming from someone who physically cannot sit through a full episode of The Flinstones because of its campy predictability.
So yes, there are comic bits that in any other movie would be too long. There are overused stereotypes. It’s often painfully predictable. It frequently defies the laws of physics. But because it’s intentionally done that way, it works.
It’s not cinematic majesty. It’s not movie gold. It’s camp. And surprisingly, that’s okay.
There are no bat-nipples here.