"We're The Millers" Serves Up Late Summer Laughs

I’ve always found “Saturday Night Live” veteran Jason Sudeikis to have an unnecessarily loud – and occasionally smug – screen presence, so I’d be lying if I said I always believed in his ability to headline a film. But I do now. In “We’re The Millers,” Sudeikis steps up his game in a big way, getting some help from a pretty terrific supporting cast and a lithe premise from a few of the writers of “Wedding Crashers,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” and “Sex Drive.” The film takes the tried-and-true family road trip formula and not only turns it on its head, but gets it drunk and embarrassed, to the point that it transcends its own raunchiness. Its characters are predictably outrageous, but drawn well enough that we become invested in the story, and its laughs are plentiful enough that various narrative speed bumps are easily forgiven.

Sudeikis stars as David Clark, a lowlife pot dealer. When David is robbed at knifepoint, his lonely, rundown life is made that much worse by his muculent boss (Ed Helms), who uses the situation to force David to smuggle a “smidge” of pot across the Mexico-United States border. Knowing how conspicuous he would look on his own, David recruits some ne’er-do-wells from his apartment building (and an adjacent alleyway) – all of whom hate each other – to pose as his family. Jennifer Aniston co-stars as Rose, a 40-something stripper with bills to pay, Emma Roberts plays Casey, a homeless runaway, and Will Poulter nearly steals the film as Kenny, a well-meaning but socially inept nerd. Ladies and gentlemen, “The Millers.”

Various R-rated hijinks ensue, with the Millers getting their RV in and out of Mexico much quicker that you might expect, two tons of weed in tow. The fun really begins when David realizes that his boss isn’t using him to buy pot, but to steal it, and the Millers become a family marked. When they cross paths with another group of RV-ers, led by the great Nick Offerman (“Parks And Recreation”) and underappreciated Kathryn Hahn (“Step Brothers”) as a quirky husband and wife combo, David and company go to hilarious lengths to maintain their cover, all while coaching up Kenny on how to talk to and, eventually, kiss girls.

Like Will Poulter’s impromptu, virtuoso performance of TLC’s “Waterfalls” (as seen in the film’s trailers), the picture is full of small moments that are quite funny on their own, but also serve to incrementally and effortlessly build up to the inevitable – the Millers accidentally becoming a real family unit. Or something like that. Each of the four main characters gets his or her moment to shine, and the actors make the best of it, giving depth to roles that could have been nothing more than the caricatures depicted on the film’s poster. The transition from anarchy to compassion within the group is never syrupy, but it is sweet, and the bonds between the characters are earned rather than assumed.

Unfortunately, the narrative stalls out just past the hour mark, at which point David, Rose, and Casey are left to hang around the RV while Kenny undergoes some much needed medical treatment. You can almost hear the screenwriters’ wheels spinning, entirely unsure of how keep the story moving along without shortchanging the audience. A shorter cut of the film might have alleviated its pacing problems, but some of the strongest character work occurs during this stretch, leaving director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his editor with little choice but to weather the storm. Succinctness is rarely worth giving up in cinema, but it was the right decision here. The result is an imperfect, but complete work.

In addition to pacing issues, some jokes unequivocally fall flat, but there are so many of them here that work that the occasional influx of dead air is useful as a respite from the laughter. The picture’s conclusion is particularly satisfying, hinting at a possible sequel but remaining self-contained enough as to not overstep its bounds. The final shot – hopeful with a touch of knowing debauchery – sums up the experience nicely, and the bloopers that follow contain a few gems that rival the film’s funniest moments. “We’re The Millers” won’t play well with audiences averse to overtly crude humor, but for those who enjoy the occasional R-rated romp, it’s a nice, subversive late summer surprise.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: August 7, 2013
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenwriter: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Will Poulter, Ed Helms
MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity)