You've seen We're the Millers before.
Think Bill Murray. Or Chevy Chase. Or Steve Martin. Or Robin Williams.
They've all done variations of the same ol' slightly good/slightly bad people in even worse situations figure out how to get along with one another while learning valuable life lessons kind of story line.
We're the Millers is familiar. We're the Millers is filled with stock characters.
Here's the thing. We're the Millers also made me laugh. We're the Millers is also on the edgier end of this generally sterile type of film, though for whatever reason director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) and co-writers Sean Anders ("That's My Boy, She's Outo f My League) and John Morris (She's Out of My League and director of "That's My Boy") can't seem to maintain that edginess long enough to make the film one of summer 2013's stand-out comedies.
There's a brilliant film bubbling underneath the slightly too good to be mediocre We're the Millers, a film that benefits greatly from the edgy likability of Jason Sudeikis, the warmth and likability of Jennifer Aniston, and the potentially break-out performance of Will Poulter (Son of Rambow).
Sudeikis is David Clark, an almost "nice guy" neighborhood drug dealer who has built a semi-lucrative career being one of the more dependable dealers for former college classmate turned mega rich dude Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms). He lives in an apartment building with a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) and a 18-year-old wannabe drug dealer named Kenny (Will Poulter). Casey (Emma Roberts) is a homeless girl whose encounter with neighborhood hooligans leads to a bungled intervention by both Kenny and David.
Suddenly, as you will probably expect, David is seriously in debt to Brad and has no choice but to accept Brad's offer of bringing "a smidge, maybe a smidge and a half" of marijuana back from Mexico. The plan, I'm sure you already know, is to make the trip in a humongous RV with our likable stripper as mom with Kenny and Casey as brother and sister because family RV's never get stopped at the border.
Yeah, I'm sure that logic works out a lot.
With its ridiculous set-up in place, We're the Millers sets off on its journey. As you will expect, there are plenty of obstacles along the way including an encounter with a hilariously hick couple, the Fitzgerald's (Nick Offerman as dad, Kathryn Hahn as mom, and Molly C. Quinn as daughter Melissa), and an occasionally inspired and occasionally insipid array of Mexican cops, carnival works, drug dealers, and one bad-ass tarantula.
We're the Millers is occasionally so inspired and edgy that you simply can't help but lament a little bit what might have been with a couple more edits of the script and, perhaps, the recasting of a part of two.
For example, as much as I adore Jennifer Aniston she's simply not up to being the edgy foil for an off-kilter Jason Sudeikis. It's never a good sign when you're watching someone as beautiful and likable as the 44-year-old Aniston working the strip pole, but never getting naked, and you can't help but notice how uncomfortable she looks doing so. Aniston has already acknowledged in a couple of interviews that she went outside her comfort zone in this film and, quite honestly, it shows in a performance that is too restrained to be effective alongside Sudeikis except in those places where her likability is essential. Aniston gamely tries to keep up and is far from weak here, but ultimately the film would have been immensely more effective with someone more convincingly edgy.
Sudeikis has some truly electric moments here, but at times feels like he's restraining himself in the same way that Robin Williams used to do so in his long string of family friendly comedies. The problem is that a restrained Sudeikis is less funny than a relentlessly witty and edgy Sudeikis and the film ends up having pockets of "dead" scenes that really mute the film's overall energy.
Then, however, we have to go back to the fact that even with the potential miscasting of Aniston and a restrained Sudeikis we end up with a film that is frequently funny and occasionally edgy with believable relationships and supporting players who for the most part hold their own.
While Emma Roberts isn't called upon to do much more here than be a typical rebellious "daughter," 20-year-old Will Poulter basically makes the film a calling card for Hollywood to keep calling. Poulter's Kenny has more than one laugh out loud funny scene including one kissing scene that is so "dirty" that you might have to take a shower after laughing.
Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn are a hoot as the Fitzgerald's, the type of couple you avoid when you meet them, and you always meet them, when you're away on the family camping trip. Dependable character actor Luis Guzman only has one scene, but he makes the most of it. While his role offered tremendous potential, the usually dependable Ed Helms mostly disappoints as a sort of nerdish drug lord. Helms shows signs of bringing Gurdlinger to life, but his scenes often feel like the really funny stuff was left on the cutting room floor.
We're the Millers isn't anywhere near summer 2013's best comedy, but neither is it the travesty that its godawful trailer would have you believe. While it never quite lives up to its edgy and inspired potential, We're the Millers features a talented enough cast that they take the film's one-note premise and compose a nice little ditty out of it.
Know what I'm sayin'?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic