The new crime-comedy We’re the Millers showcases all sorts of crude and obscene humor, trying desperately to earn a hard “R” rating, but the story lives in a world where cartoon-like gangsters buy, sell and steal drugs, but no one ever uses them, and where strippers dance but never actually disrobe. If you think the incessant use of the “F” word is funny, then you will probably enjoy this film, but it is mostly just half-baked humor that breaks badly.
Writers Bob Fisher and Steve Faber, both of “Wedding Crashers” fame, together with “Hot Tub Time Machine” co-writers Sean Anders and John Morris, have not-so-successfully combined the vacation movie genre with drug-crime themed comedy, and the results are not very funny at all. Does the premise of a family (even a pseudo one like in this film) smuggling drugs sound hilarious? I don’t think it does, and at least for this film it’s not.
Now don’t get me wrong, Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” is one of my favorite comedies, as is “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” but that doesn’t mean I think combining those two films makes for a great idea.
Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis, best known for spoofing Mitt Romney on the late-night show, plays David Clark, a thirty-something small-time drug dealer who has his stash and all of his money stolen when he helps his teenage neighbor, Kenny (Will Poulter), prevent the mugging of a runaway girl, Casey (Emma Roberts).
David owes money to a yuppie gangster, his former college friend Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), and in order to settle the debt he must smuggle a load of marijuana into the U.S. for the super-villain like kingpin whose office is surrounded by a huge aquarium, complete with a killer whale – just another weird scenario that felt ridiculously out of place.
During the visit to Brad’s elaborate office there is also a dreadful product-placement scene involving a can of Fresca that is just absurd. This is about fifteen minutes into the movie and I was almost ready to checkout after this blatant in-movie commercial. I wonder which part of this film Fresca enjoys being associated with, the drug smuggling, or maybe the stripper lifestyle? The film does get better as it goes along, but not by much.
In order to pass border security, David devises a plan to travel as a family on vacation and convinces Kenny, Casey and his stripper neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), to accompany him into Mexico as his son, daughter and wife, respectively – calling themselves “the Millers.”
None of the four fake family members get along and wackiness ensues as they find themselves pursued by the drug cartel while they try to make it back to Brad’s aquarium hideout in time. Along the way they encounter vacation genre hijinks with fellow “RVers” and eventually find themselves acting like an actual family (sort of.)
The only Miller character that elicits any sympathy at all is Kenny, who I have to admit has a satisfying stand-up-and-cheer moment of glory, near the end of the film, that is a lot of fun. British actor Will Poulter has a standout performance as the nerdy young man who has been abandoned by his real mother, but chooses to live a good heroic life. Without the Kenny character, this film would have been a complete and utter mess.
There has been a lot of hype over Jennifer Aniston’s stripping scenes in this film, but it is much ado over nothing. Not that I’m hungry for gratuitous nudity (of which there is none), but neither am I hungry for gratuitous stripper scenes with no nudity. To be honest, sequences set in a strip-club, or with strippers, but with no nudity, are just dumb and pointless and I don’t know why Aniston’s character had to be stripper at all. In We’re the Millers, apparently graphic conversations about all manner of crude subjects and obscenely close-up and graphic images of male genitalia are okay, but a realistically portrayed strip club is not. Go figure.
As directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), We’re the Millers does have a few funny moments where I gave in (despite feeling guilty for it) and laughed, but its forced bawdiness was mostly tedious and desperate. I feel badly for Aniston, a fine comedic actress who has struggled to keep her career afloat since the end of her successful Friends television sitcom, and also for Sudeikis in his first marquee role. Here’s hoping they find better material next time around.