Los Angeles soft drink executive Bob Munro needs a vacation. His kids are disrespectful. His sleazy boss seems poised to replace him with a young go-getter. And keeping up with the Joneses is eating him alive. Bob hopes that an upcoming trip to Hawaii will release that tension and bring the family closer together.
Unfortunately, the Munros must trade leis and luaus for a week crammed inside a recreational vehicle when, in an attempt to save his job, Bob agrees to trek into the Rocky Mountains to deliver a key merger proposal—without telling his family the real reason for their trip. Along for the ride are his reluctant but loving wife, Jamie; his sarcastic teenage daughter, Cassie (a vegetarian and armchair social crusader); and Carl, the adolescent son who compensates for his small stature by lifting weights and listening to tough-sounding rap music.
Once on the road, nothing goes as planned. Whether attempting a simple K-turn, emptying the septic system or ridding the vehicle of raccoons, one comic speed bump after another threatens to destroy the RV, not to mention any remnant of family togetherness. One such mishap introduces them to the Gornicke family, a cloyingly friendly clan of country bumpkins who've made RVing a full-time pursuit. They're gracious, but annoying. Attempts to ditch the Gornickes prove futile. They stay hot on the Munros' heels all the way to Colorado, where Bob must slip away from his kin and make the presentation that will change his family's lives forever.
The film opens with Bob putting a 5-year-old Cassie to bed, playfully tickling her and promising that they'll always be best friends. A sudden jump to Cassie's present-day sullenness is a powerful reminder that parents should cherish childhood sweetness while it lasts and, if at all possible, preserve that friendship into adolescence. Bob realizes the need to reconnect with his children before it's too late ("I'm running out of time with my kids") and learns to define wealth in terms of love. Devotion to his family inspires him to work feverishly and, when it becomes apparent that his family needs more than a sizable paycheck, make a very noble career choice.
Some backwards good-ol' boys kindly attempt to help Bob drain his septic system. When their advice leads to disaster, a stranger named Travis Gornicke steps in, cleans Bob up and, along with his wife, MaryJo, and their children, shows the Munros hospitality. The Gornickes are initially painted as a happy-go-lucky caricature of cosmetics-selling, Jesus-loving, home-schooling, folk song-plucking simpletons, only to have the Munros learn that there's much more to these people than meets the eye. They are revealed to be honest, loyal, extremely intelligent friends worthy of respect. At one point Travis gives Bob the benefit of the doubt, even when he doesn't deserve it.
Bob's boss, Todd, is vilified for being a narcissistic opportunist. The fallout from Bob duping his family shows the need for honesty, specifically in marriage. Cassie realizes that her parents sacrificed opportunities for "fun" by having children, and Dad assures her it was a worthwhile trade. The teen also concludes that rebellion only takes a person so far and that obedience is a life skill ("I get it: Sometimes if you want to succeed you have to just do what they tell you"). Aware that his son is self-conscious about his size, Bob gives Carl a tender pep talk.
MaryJo and Travis can't wait to tell the Munros how Jesus miraculously saved them from a tornado.
Women wear immodest outfits that show cleavage. The most explicit instance finds MaryJo leaning out of her RV (and practically her top), jiggling vigorously. Two teens are shown briefly "making out." Cassie sings a few lines from the Joan Jett song "Cherry Bomb," which is about a girl claiming to be a wild child ("I'm the fox you've been waiting for ... let me grab ya 'til you're sore"). Bob and Jamie speak slyly to each other about sneaking away for sex. At one point the kids appear to be wise to their euphemisms.
Bob makes a joke about MaryJo being a hooker. A grown man leers at Cassie. A young boy walks in on Bob in a bathroom stall and notes that he has "a nice one" (after a moment of uncertainty, we learn that he's referring to the man's laptop computer).
Primarily mild slapstick and physical comedy with RV-related destruction. A girl throws a drink in a man's face. Carl flips a guy onto his back.
Crude or Profane Language
About a dozen profanities ("h---," "d--n," "son of a b--ch," "a--") and exclamatory uses of God's name, often from teenagers. Carl calls his sister a "b--ch." There are also a number of crude, scatological terms sure to disappoint families.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jamie asks Bob if he wants wine or a martini, to which he replies, "Both, with a Prozac pack." The couple is shown sharing drinks.
Other Negative Elements
Bob humorously recalls a nasty remark his father once made toward his mother, and his co-workers grouse disrespectfully about their wives and ex-wives. Bob lies about having intestinal distress (complete with sound effects) to get out of going on a hike with his family. He also deceives his boss, who thinks he's sick and working from home. Cassie unknowingly eats deer organs, then searches for a place to vomit. A septic explosion drenches Bob in human waste. The Munro children are extremely disrespectful toward their father. Cassie uses sarcasm as a weapon, calls her dad a "dork" and gives him the finger (off-camera).
In the tradition of family road-trip movies such as National Lampoon's Vacation and Johnson Family Vacation, RV strands parents and adolescents on a traumatic cross-country adventure. The main difference here is the size of the vehicle. And the PG rating. At times the script strains for originality the way Bob Munro's recreational behemoth strains to navigate a steep Rocky Mountain pass, though the movie packs a few deserved chuckles and a warning about letting the demands of life reorder our priorities and undermine family unity. It's good to see that, when given something funny to do (improvising a slang-slathered gangsta-rap riff or single-handedly trying to dislodge a hung-up RV), Robin Williams can still bring it with the best of them.
On an offensiveness scale of one to 10, the worst moments in RV rate around a five. For example, there's immodesty and innuendo, but no nudity or sex. A boy squeals on his sister for flipping off dad, yet we're spared the actual obscene gesture. The film doesn't go as far as it could have. Still, it goes farther than it should have. With so many of these "lesser" crudities and vulgarities piled atop each other, there's a cumulative ick factor to what is, ostensibly, a family film. Characters may never use the s-word, but hearing "turd" more than a dozen times and seeing a man showered with feces leaves the same bad taste.
"My theory has always been the worse the experience, the better it is when you describe it in retrospect," said director Barry Sonnenfeld, referring to the road-trip-from-Hades concept. "I passed four kidney stones. Each one was horrible, but those stories are some of my best and funniest stories." Sorry, but this cinematic kidney stone isn't likely to improve with age. RV's great messages about prejudice, developing respect for others and what it really means to put family first become roadkill beneath the wheels of bathroom humor, innuendo and profanity.