It is said that nothing runs thicker than blood. It is the bond that ties strongest. Obviously, whatever smartass came with that never had to smuggle a half a million dollars worth of marijuana out of Mexico. That ties any group of disparate people together pretty quickly, not unlike a noose.
We’re The Millers takes a sly comedy premise and aims to create the South of the Border vacation the Grizwolds never had. Given our post-ironic times, the main characters are not technically a family by birth, but rather of choice and easy convenience. Still make no mistake, this movie is every bit the Mrs. Butterworth brand of raunchy humor as those early National Lampoon classics and will live or die on the basis of its gags.
The movie takes great pains early on to establish these are our friendly neighborhood type of drug dealers. Despite looking like he could play Mr. Beaver’s dad, director Rawson Marshall Thurber repeatedly emphasizes that Jason Sudeikis is a stoner slacker. You can tell this by the fact that he still wears hoodies, flip-flops and a wavy set of Bieber-esque bangs at 35. When he runs into an old school chum in a minivan and with a polo shirt, we are to understand that Sudeikis’ David is not doing much with his life.
Yet, he is still a happy drug dealer. All his clients are professionally well-employed adults who just need a little buzz to get them through their day and he blatantly refuses to sell to kids (as well as deal anything stronger than weed). In fact, his smiling good nature even lets his latchkey geek neighbor, Kenny (Will Poulter), hang around like a lost puppy. David eventually pulls the kid’s buns out of the fire when the lad tries to save their local too-clean-to-be-a-real hobo Casey (Emma Roberts) from a mugging. Unfortunately, David is robbed in the process.
So when his boss, eccentric former college roomie Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), persuades David to repay his debt and then some by smuggling a “smidge” of cheeba out from under the nose of a Mexican drug cartel, he really can’t say no. Not with plastic tarp underneath his feet like an underling from Lethal Weapon 2. But how does a stoner burnout pull off crossing the border with contraband?
And there’s the movie. Armed with the help of a cleaned up Kenny, Casey, and Sudeikis’ natural style, all David needs is the love of a good woman to complete the con; he ends up settling for his stripping frenemy neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston). Throw in an RV and we’re off to the mule races.
We’re the Millers is about as predictable as a stretch of desert highway along the Southern rim of New Mexico. Going in, you can guess every contour and bump these characters will find on their trip to a joint realization that the real treasure to be had is in each other’s company. The trick is, of course, how funny is that winding detour. As it turns out, much to my genuine surprise, it mostly chugs along fine on a steady tank of raunchy howlers. This movie doesn’t just go for the cheap laugh, it tries to barter it down to the street level where we’re just giving them away to the movie’s very charming, if somewhat underutilized cast.
Despite years of struggling with hit-or-miss material on Saturday Night Live, Sudeikis proves here that he’s perfected the art of the mean-spirited deadpan. Early in the film while at the salon, David demands to have the haircut of a man who works a 9-to-5 job he hates for 20 years and is one step away from summoning the courage to put the shotgun in his mouth…kind of like the poor SOB right behind him. David says some of the most blunt and on-the-nose insults of any movie this summer, but with Sudeikis’ wry smirk, we know he is in on how awful it can sound and that this is just good barroom conversation.
It helps that Sudeikis is reunited with his Horrible Bosses co-star Jennifer Aniston. Once America’s sweetheart in every living room in America, Aniston has amusingly carved out a spot for herself these days as the siren with the devious eyes from across the street. Having gleefully rebranded her image in these red-banded comedies, Aniston has the joy of flipping between both types throughout The Millers. As Rose, the whip-sharp stripper with her own moral boundaries, she squares off against Sudeikis like it’s a Howard Hawks movie circling a stripper pole (which she does herself more than once). However, she is far more fun as the sweet and pleasant Mrs. Miller, a Southern Baptist type who holds family prayers and just knows how to handle nosy neighbors.
Those neighbors include fellow RV enthusiasts the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn and Molly Quinn) and demented drug rivals (Tomer Sisley). All the rotating players get a few chances to shine, particularly Parks and Rec’s Offerman as the friendly DEA tourist who clearly is open to testing the social taboos of his marriage, but they are just in and out long enough for the punchlines to mostly land. The one exception is perhaps Ed Helms as a sociopathic drug kingpin with a fetish for Orcas that makes Blackfish’s Sea World seem lovingly responsible. He brings a different energy to the proceedings than the rest of the movie, but it is a very welcome one.
However, it all comes back to the Millers and their zany chemistry, which sizzles, even if Poulter and Roberts are not given enough to do. Whether it is rapping along to TLC or having mom and sis teach Kenny how to kiss, the laughs keep coming like so many miles of the open road. Not bad for a movie that questionably began with pandering YouTube clips of stoners and kittens.
Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars