“We’re the Millers” takes on the nuclear family in order to utterly destroy, dismember and deconstruct it only to put it back together. Imagine that great Billy Wilder film about desperate deception, “Some Like It Hot,” only with drug smugglers at the U.S./Mexican border posing as a Brady Bunch.
Consider the possibilities!
You only wish a laundry list of writers, producers and exec producers HAD considered the possibilities. Instead they settled for a routine R-rated comedy without pushing any envelops — or buttons.
It may not matter. Thanks to a game cast and that fine premise, the film’s tame gags and misfired comedy play as if it were … well, a minor Billy Wilder comedy, say “Buddy Buddy.”
Okay, about that premise: If you’re going to smuggle two metric tons of high-grade marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico, chances are if you look like a Midwest family in a huge RV, agents will wave you through without a second thought. You just don’t fit the drug-runner profile.
So when a low-level, disheveled Denver drug dealer, David (Jason Sudeikis), is confronted with the dire situation of having to move a large amount of weed through that border, he cleans himself up, then recruits a “family” to complete the disguise.
Since he doesn’t know normal folks, his family includes two fellow tenants in his rundown apartment building — an aging stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and a geeky kid named Kenny (Will Poulter) as wife and son — plus a homeless runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his daughter.
So these are the Millers.
The movie skips over such practical considerations as how they cleaned up and got fake IDs in less than 24 hours — there might have been a few laughs there but never mind. Instead the happy family fly to Mexico, pick up the stash and motorhome and arrive at the border where the first major missed opportunity occurs.
I won’t give away what happens but will say that all screenwriters Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders and John Morris come up with is a lame distraction that never puts David’s theory of a squeaky-clean masquerade to any test.
The story then descends into a hum-drum situation comedy about a pursuing Mexican gang and another RV vacationing family whose dad (Nick Offerman) just happens to be a DEA agent but one looking not for contraband but rather spice to enliven a fading intimate relationship with his wife (Kathryn Hohn).
Laughs do get generated from the switches from the characters’ foul-mouthed selves to their bubbly innocent guise as an All-American family. But it’s almost as if the audience were laughing at the premise, not the gags themselves.
No actor seems seriously invested in either role. Aniston’s stripper is a little too “artistic” in her routines and not nearly earthy enough. Nor does her straight character seem remarkably different than her persona in many other movies.
Sudeikis is too much the sketch comic. So his transitions play for laughs rather than emotional hiccups in a seriously underachieving and dysfunctional male. You can take the comic out of “Saturday Night Live” but …
Roberts’ Casey is never given a clear sense of purpose. She is supposedly somewhere between runaway and street person but looks like she just stepped out of a salon. In other words, she has no character in either guise.
Poulter’s character is just odd in either incarnation, there being little to distinguish between them anyway. He’d love to smoke a little weed and kiss a girl but it’s not clear what has prevented him so far other than those strangely upturned eyebrows (a chick turnoff, one might imagine).
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber stages scenes awkwardly with menacing characters appearing to come from just off camera and a key fight in the first act, which motivates the entire movie, being clumsily shot.
The major missed opportunity here is the filmmakers’ inability to follow through on their own premise of a “family” with egregiously bad habits. If the Millers had remained resolute in those bad habits, then how they shoot themselves in the foot may have had comic punch.
Alas, the Millers are “cute” street, not the unkempt, defiantly uncouth characters the premise calls for. Hell, you’ve already got the R rating. Why so many compromises? Why fall back on false sentimentality?
If you’re going to make a “family” movie that’s clearly not intended for family audiences, then go for it!
Opens: August 7, 2013 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: New Line Cinema presents a Newman/Tooley Films, Slap Happy Productions/Heyday Films and Benderspink production
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn
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, Marcus Viscidi, Body Emmerich, Richard Brener, David Neustadter
Director of photography: Barry Peterson
Production designer: Clayton Hartley
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: Mike Sale
R rating, 122 minutes