Found in America

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Over here on the left, fighting for the blue states, the Munro family: Bob (Robin Williams), Jamie (Cheryl Hines) and their disaffected offspring. They are, as you might imagine, oppressed by getting and spending somewhat beyond their means, and their whole way of life is threatened by Bobís fat-headed and sadistic boss. He insists that Bob cancel a family vacation in Hawaii in order to attend a merger meeting in Colorado. Bob refuses to admit the pressure heís under, rents an ungainly RV and pretends the trip will re-bond his family. Ha-Ha.

To the right of the picture, wearing red state colors, are the Gornickes: Travis (Jeff Daniels), MaryJo (Kristin Chenoweth) and their kids. They like to sing hymns, eat organ meat and are full of mindless pep. They are also, of course, the Munroís worst nightmare.

They meet icky, when Bob, clueless in his attempts to manage the mysteries of his recreational vehicle, has a spot of trouble cleaning out its chemical toilet, which geysers an astonishing amount of what is gently called "fecal matter" on their first overnight stop. Travis, who is omnicompetent in the practicalities of life on the open road, solves the problem, and the next thing you know he and his brood are trying to sweep the resistant Munros under their protective wing.

It requires no great emotional acuity to imagine that, this being America, where we like pretending to be a classless society, that the smug and settled Munros will eventually succumb to the raffish good nature of the Gornickes, who have no permanent address, but roam our highways 24/7/365 in their big red bus. It does, however, require a very high tolerance for scatological humor to find this rather desperate comedy very funny, though to be completely honest, I found myself succumbing to RV, which is also a way of admitting that Iíve been feeling raunch-deprived at the movies for months.

All right, all right — RV is no Dumb and Dumber, that masterpiece of the moronic (which also featured the redoubtable Jeff Daniels), but it is also a nicely dishonorable addition to the small but often hilarious tradition of comedies in which the bourgeoisie get their comeuppance while navigating large vehicles along narrow and twisted roads. Anyone here remember Lucy and Desi in The Long, Long Trailer, way back in 1954? No? Thatís too bad. But surely you recall Albert Brooksís best movie, Lost in America (1991). Our movies — especially the supposedly funny ones — are so relentlessly middle class in outlook, so often concentrated on the romantic anguish of people who are all lifestyle yet in some ways life-deprived. It is good — even sort of soul satisfying — to see them diverted from their top-of-the-line preoccupations and obliged to scrape along the bottom of the line. To see Robin Williams forced to deal with a family of raccoons that have unaccountably taken up residence in his RVís oven is to see — symbolically at least — reality bite a hand more used to keypads than to gnawing nature.

It is, incidentally, good to see Williams back to his best self — riffing free-associationally on a variety of themes, instead of indulging his recent penchant for liberal-minded sentiment. I suppose it might be argued that the director, Barry Sonnenfeld, is not operating at his very best level with this material. After all, he is the auteur of the sublime Men in Black movies, which may just have been the most deliriously acute comedies of the last decade. But you have to remember that in those pictures the alien invaders often took up residence in our trashiest environments, places where the pickup truck was parked in the front yard and meatloaf was on the kitchen table. You also have to remember that the films argued that Sylvester Stallone was just possibly an extra-terrestrial in disguise and that the supermarket tabloids, with their giddy accounts of UFO landings and the births of two-headed cows , were truthfully reflecting our hidden reality while the New York Times, with its sober accounts of the doings of the inside-the-beltwayís real-life men in black, is entirely out to lunch. Sonnenfeld is a guy who believes that whatís left of America vitality — its life force, if you will — wears work boots, talks in a taciturn drawl and is not afflicted with attention deficit disorder when sex is mentioned.

This is, of course, a reassuring — though not necessarily a provable — thought. And the movie cheats a little with the Gornickes. They turn out to be better educated than they appear to be. They have chosen their bus, and their home-schooled children are both smarter and less anxious than the Munro kids. On the other hand, if we are truly an open society, we have to be open to learn to reserve judgment, to entertain the possibility that things (and people) are not necessarily what they seem at first glance to be. That thought sometimes applies to movies as well. Maybe this tacky, low-life movie, featuring an over-abundance of jokes about flatulence and other embarrassing bodily functions, has a — well, er — slyly instructional purpose. OK, Iím probably overreading the fool thing. Maybe I should just say that I laughed at it more than I expected to. Or really wanted to.