Film Review: We're the Millers

Most of the real creativity here seems to have gone into concocting this strained comedy’s knowingly wacky premise.

To pay off a sizeable debt to his sleazy supplier, small-time Denver drug dealer David (Jason Sudeikis) agrees to smuggle a load of marijuana out of Mexico. In a desperate ploy, he assembles a fake “perfect” all-American family he dubs the Millers as his cover. One by one, he coerces his combative neighbor, a stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston), Casey (Emma Roberts), a tough street urchin, and goofy virgin Kenny (Will Poulter), another neighbor, to impersonate his wife, daughter and son, respectively. They set off in a humongous RV to cross the border and encounter a wealth of nutty characters, along with some scary chills and spills along the way.

We’ve come a long way from the National Lampoon family-vacation series and one can almost feel the puffed-up, subversive pride of the four credited screenwriters over the cynical snark-fest they’ve concocted. Unfortunately, We’re the Millers is a case of so many writers, so few real laughs, thanks to the strained brand of humor which permeates the project. Given the attractiveness of the cast and a fun—if outrageous—premise, you dearly want to have an uproarious time, but both direction and writing are so scattershot, they engender only fitful amusement. You know a comedy’s in trouble when it tries to grab laughs by having a giant tarantula bite an actor (poor Poulter) in the privates and then goes that one step further by actually showing you the wretched guy’s distended and discolored testicles twice for a cheap yuck. At another point, the ultra-white Millers nervously pass around a bag of weed disguised as an infant whom they say is named “Lebron.” (There were crickets, not guffaws, at that one in the theatre.) It’s the kind of less-than-fresh conceit that feels so calculated even the by-now ubiquitous blooper outtake sequence at the end comes across as unspontaneous and highly bogus.

Although Sudeikis gets his share of would-be hilarious lines, his character is basically straight man here and—not being proactive enough—his own brand of observantly specific, winning farce wilts into a blah blandness. Aniston triumphantly proved in Horrible Bosses that character work is more her cuppa than playing the nth variation of America’s Sweetheart and once more gets to be dirty-sexy here, but it feels much more forced, especially when she goes into a (very expected) strip routine, proudly showing off her trim chassis with moves cadged from Flashdance. Admittedly, a scene in which she and Roberts both smother Poulter in “incestuous” kisses is pretty hot, wrong as it is. Apart from that, Roberts has very little to play, although Poulter conveys a likeably authentic innocence with his slightly ridiculous Howdy Doody face and eternal awkwardness.

If any actors could be said to steal this film (paltry task, that), they would be Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as the Fitzgeralds, a very clueless yet very chipper couple on the road, who turn out to harbor some darker bi-curious desires for David and Rose beneath their beaming, Ivory soap exteriors. Hahn throws herself into the role with bracing brio, while walrus-stached Offerman, toying with Sudeikis’ earlobe, provides the film’s funniest—and most spontaneous—moment.