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We're the Millers: Film Review

10:00 PM PDT 8/5/2013 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

Rote comedy of lowlifes posing as a happy family to smuggle drugs can hope its crudeness will spark late summer interest.

Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston star as ne'er-do-well bottom-feeders posing as a couple in an effort to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

We're the Millers is vulgar vanilla, a "family" comedy about a bunch of would-be golly-gee squares who talk dirty and get involved with Mexican drug dealers because it's 2013 instead of 1953. An inane little time-killer with enough low laughs to placate undemanding audiences, this Warner Bros. release could rake in some decent quick returns and good ancillary results if at least part of the public that made The Heat such a hit becomes convinced that this is just the R-rated romp it needs to bookend the summer with another shot of crude comedy.

The whole joke here is that “the Millers” are an invention, a white-bread, middle-class, RV-dwelling family of four that represents the traditional American ideal, when, in fact, they're a bunch of ne'er-do-well bottom-feeders thrown together in the hopes of righting the capsized ships their lives have become.

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Not that they're really bad sorts, of course, just victims of their own low horizons and not getting their acts together. David (Jason Sudeikis) is still the loosey-goosey neighborhood pot dealer he was in college. After being robbed of all he's worth, he's also susceptible to the entreaties of his loaded old pal and supplier, Brad (an over-the-top Ed Helms), to work as a mule to bring a “smidge” of drugs back to Denver from south of the border.

The idea, as concocted by two separate screenwriting teams, Bob Fisher and Steve Faber (The Wedding Crashers) and Sean Anders and John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine), is for David to recruit three likely suspects who will help him form a straight-arrow family so normal and Norman Rockwell-looking that authorities will wave their spiffy motor home right over the border without a thought. According to time-tested romantic comedy formula, the woman he finds to pose as his wife must hate him, the better to warm to him later, so of course the job falls to local stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who may well be the least convincing down-and-out bump-and-grinder in screen history. All of about five seconds are devoted to showing Rose at work going through her motions wearing far more than most soccer moms usually wear at public swimming pools, and the idea that a woman this well groomed and so obviously middle-class would have been plying this trade for 20 years and still look like this defies even a generous extension of disbelief. This is the sort of role -- a woman who's had some hard knocks but still retains her smarts and sass -- that Barbara Stanwyck excelled at in the old days, and let's just say that Aniston is no Stanwyck.

Also scrubbing up for the ride are snide street punk Casey (Emma Roberts) and a teenage sad sack from David's apartment building, Kenny (Will Poulter). The women on board can barely stand to be around the interminably upbeat David, who, after a haircut, is very convincing as a Midwestern-style dork. As predicted, they're practically given a royal escort into Mexico and shortly find the fortress compound of their contact (Tomer Sisley) and his towering, one-eyed henchman (Matthew Willig).

The heat is finally turned up a notch when the smidge they're to transport turns out to be a stash that would have kept The Dude aloft for life. With drugs packed into every corner and crevice of the RV, they head back on a perilous journey that's moderately enlivened when they're helped out by a solicitous Middle American family, the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn), to whom the “Millers” have to be convincing as a real family.

Shy virgin Kenny gets some amusing coaching on how to romance the Fitzgeralds' equally bashful daughter (Molly Quinn), while the funniest stuff stems from a misunderstanding that initiates an almost-group encounter among the four adults that has Hahn doing to Aniston what Leslie Mann did to Megan Fox in This Is 40.

VIDEO: 'We're The Millers' Trailer: Jennifer Aniston Smuggles Drugs

The film's slyest performance comes from Offerman as Don Fitzgerald, a DEA veteran who's as straight-shooting and affable a guy as you could want to meet, unless you happen to be transporting millions in drugs. Like many a classic farce, this trifle swings on concealed identities, people not being what they seem, a myriad of close calls and as many plot twists and turns as it takes to make everything work out in the end.

Returning to the broad comedy strokes of his debut feature, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, after a detour with the seriously under-realized The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, director Rawson Marshall Thurber adequately manages the mechanics demanded here but adds no finesse or grace notes. Sudeikis is very broad and one-note as a Waspy schlub whose enthusiasm is equaled only by his obnoxiousness.

Without a breath at the end, the film breaks into a succession of not very funny outtakes. “Oscars for all of you!” Hahn roars to the others at one point. They'd better not start hoping.

Opens: Aug. 10 (Warner Bros.)
Production: New Line Cinema, Newman/Tooley Films, Slap Happy Productions, Heyday Films, Benderspink
Cast: Jennifer Anison, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzman
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenwriters: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris, story by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber
Producers: Vincent Newman, Tucker Tooley, Happy Walters, Chris Bender
Executive producers: David Heyman, J.C. Spink, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Dave Neustadter, Marcus Viscidi
Director of photography: Barry Peterson
Production designer: Clayton Hartley
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: Mike Sale
Music: Theodore Shapiro, Ludwig Goransson
R rating, 111 minutes