We're the Millers

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/06/13 16:19:47

"Just Say "Meh"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Hot on the heels of the recent "The To-Do List," "We're The Millers" is another comedy that takes a seemingly foolproof premise and a game cast and never quite manages to make anything out of them. It is more consistent than "The To-Do List," to be sure, and there are moments that are funny enough to suggest that it might actually pull itself together at some point and live up to its potential. Alas, there just aren't enough of them and after a while, its dreams of being the next "Pineapple Express" eventually go up in smoke.

Jason Sudekis stars as David Clark, a low-level pot dealer who, through no fault of his own, owes his supplier (Ed Helms. . .yes, Ed Helms) more money than he can possibly pay back. In response, the dealer makes him an offer that he is in no real position to refuse--go down to Mexico, pick up a load of pot and bring it back across the border. Having more faith in border security than most, David realizes that if a single guy like him tried to make the run, he would practically be hanging an "Arrest Me" sign from the side of his car. He then has a stroke of genius--if he gets some people to pose as his family and they utilize an RV as their mode of transportation, they would look like just another group of vacationeers and slide through the checkpoint with nary a second glance from anyone.

Before long, David has recruited an ersatz family consisting of cynical stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), sassy runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) and hopelessly naive latchkey kid Kenny (Will Poulter) and the four, scrubbed to suburban perfection, arrive in Mexico to pick up their shipment. Problem #1 arises when they discover that instead of the couple of pounds they expect to be carrying, they wind up carting enough pot to land them in jail for the rest of their lives if they are caught. Problem #2 comes up when it turns out that they have been duped by David's supplier into taking a shipment meant for a rival dealer who will do anything to get back what it is. Problem #3 takes the form of the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn), a resolutely straight-laced couple whom they meet at the border and who keep turning up along the way to inadvertently throw further wrenches into their plans.

In fusing together elements from such disparate sources as "Up in Smoke" and "The Long Long Trailer," "We're The Millers" sounds like it has all the making for some reasonably outrageous fun and there are some legitimately zingers strewn throughout but the material never quite makes it to the next level. Take away the drugs, the swearing and the shock humor and you are left with little more than an elongated sitcom that goes to extraordinary lengths not to rock any boats. Both the characters and the storyline follow their expected arcs towards resolutions in which everyone gets pretty much what they deserve and the notion the Drugs Are Bad is reinforced with all the subtlety of a high school pep rally. Meanwhile, nuggets of potential inspiration--chiefly in the form of Ed Helms as a genially sleazy would-be drug kingpin who suggests how Tony Montana might have turned out if he came from Cedar Rapids instead of Cuba--are introduced only to be abandoned. The whole thing feels like the kind of film that was made to be caught in brief increments during incessant broadcasts on Comedy Central when there is absolutely nothing else of interest to watch on cable.

Presumably in an attempt to distract viewers from the fact that it has little else to offer them, the film tries to goose things up with bits of gross-out humor meant to shock viewers and inspire lots of "OMG"-like comments on the Twitter amongst them. One, in which the totally inexperienced Kenny develops a crush on the Fitzgerald's daughter (Molly Quinn) and is discovered by her while receiving kissing lessons from his "mother" and "sister" is pretty funny and that is due in no small part to the fact that it develops logically from the material instead of just being shoehorned in to cause a rise.

However, there is another extended gag in which a tarantula gets loose (don't ask) and bites Kenny on an especially delicate portion of his anatomy. This one doesn't work because a.) it isn't especially funny, b.) it is set up in such a mechanical manner that the only thing shocking about the gag is that it wasn't deployed maybe 20 minutes earlier and c.) the joke is topped off with a close-up look at the afflicted body part that is so grotesque that it flat-out kills any lingering amusement that the bit might have inspired. If you ever wanted an idea of what the infamous "franks & beans" bit in "There's Something About Mary" would have been like if it had been completely mishandled from start to finish, here is your big chance.

As I said, "We're The Millers" has some amusing moments here and there and even some of the weaker bits get an immeasurable boost from Sudekis and Aniston, both of whom put far more effort into selling the material they are working with than it really deserves. However, it just lacks that final spark--no pun intended--of inspiration needed to transform it from an aimless and fitfully funny mess into something truly side-splitting. Put it this way, unless you have seen every single Cheech & Chong movie, you can probably skip watching this one and if you have, then you pretty much already have.

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