‘We’re The Millers’ a passably funny, up-and-down road-trip comedy

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we're the millers posterWe’re The Millers

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris

USA, 2013

We’re The Millers is a mighty schizophrenic movie, sometimes shuffling from plot point to plot point as if you can literally see a committee of studio executives hovering next to the actors, offering notes about how likable the characters should be or which touchstones of popular culture should be referenced. And then, sometimes, almost by the sheer will and force of the cast, there are laughs to be had in what is an arguably ridiculous premise. In the end, We’re The Millers is just so-so, a fitfully funny patchwork comedy that relies too much on paying homage to far better pieces of modern popular culture.

Jason Sudeikis is Dave, a shiftless small-time pot dealer in Denver who finds himself at the end of his rope when he’s robbed at knifepoint by a young gang. His supplier, an old college buddy (Ed Helms), forces him to smuggle a massive amount of marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border as a way to pay off this unexpected debt. Dave wisely presumes that a loner in a big RV, the transport for the weed, will set off red flags with border police, so he recruits his stripper neighbor (Jennifer Aniston), a goofy, moon-faced teen (Will Poulter), and a runaway (Emma Roberts) to be his pretend family for the July 4th weekend so that any law enforcement won’t peg them for being drug smugglers. Thus, the stage is set for ultimate wackiness, as it goes with all drug smuggling tales.

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Dave is, despite Sudeikis’ mostly winning snarky attitude, totally out of his depth, desperately trying to prove his worth while driving an oversize RV and eventually fooling a burly DEA agent (Nick Offerman) and his oblivious wife (Kathryn Hahn). Here, as in many other moments in We’re The Millers, it’s hard not to be put in mind of some other film or TV show; a good chunk of Dave’s arc is too reminiscent of that of Walter White on the excellent AMC drama Breaking Bad. Certainly, these are surface connections: the RV, the Southwestern setting, the blustery DEA opposition, the faux-parental connection between our drug-dealing lead and his drug-smuggling help. But being put in mind of Breaking Bad isn’t exactly to this movie’s benefit; even as a wacky road-trip comedy, it doesn’t measure up to other standard-bearers of the genre.

The cast, at least, is game, starting with Sudeikis and extending to the rest of the ensemble. Aniston seems a little too self-aware and classy to be playing a character the world has decided is washed-up and unworthy of respect. Her character, Rose, can barely pretend to maintain a day-to-day lifestyle that isn’t awash in unpaid bills and other signs that life has dealt her a rough hand. Aniston livens up when bickering with Sudeikis—she somehow seems most alive in her films and on Friends when she has to engage in overlapping, petty arguments—even if the moments where Rose gains a maternal air with her fake children often ring a bit untrue. Roberts gets the short end of the stick; the script, by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber and Sean Anders & John Morris, often hints at what it was that compelled her to run away from home, but we never learn that much about her, and her interactions with the rest of her fake family aren’t that substantial. Poulter, best known in a much different role in the last Chronicles of Narnia movie, gets the lion’s share of material as the geeky, virginal Kenny, though his most memorable moment feels like a rehash of a similar scene from There’s Something About Mary.

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We’re The Millers lays it on thick with the raunch; sometimes, the gleefully R-rated humor works, as in Hahn’s sweaty, almost childish attempts to expand her sexual horizons. But sometimes, it feels stale and overly familiar. What’s more, director Rawson Marshall Thurber, of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, seems entirely incapable of staging and filming a number of sequences unless they’re choppily edited. At one point, when facing down a Mexican drug lord of whom Sudeikis inadvertently ran afoul, Rose is coerced into proving that all those years at the strip club paid off, but a moment that should be a blend of humor and sexiness is limp and speedy, the music and sequence of shots rushing far too quickly. Some of the sequences, frankly, feel as if whole shots have been excised from the cut for no good reason, making for a film that doesn’t flow well.

There are enough laughs in We’re The Millers to make it a passable experience, and any movie that allows Nick Offerman a scene in which he can both lay a beatdown and giggle like a schoolgirl isn’t all bad. (Fans of Parks and Recreation will enjoy the latter touch.) Every few minutes or scenes, it becomes readily apparent that We’re The Millers isn’t just inextricably tied to its influences, but somewhat dated to boot, as in Kenny’s impromptu singing of TLC’s “Waterfall,” which is only moderately funny considering how old that song is. However, just when it looks like We’re The Millers is too dire to be saved, Jason Sudeikis or Jennifer Aniston tosses off an unexpected one-liner, saving the film from its skid into total failure, swerving into mediocrity instead. For this film, that’ll have to do.

— Josh Spiegel






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