Friday, August 9, 2013

We're the Millers

The fake-family comedy "We're the Millers," to the posters for which Warner Bros. has appended the very funny tag "(*if anybody asks)," is so schizophrenic it plays like two, sometimes three different movies.
The set-up, about a petty drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) who loses forty grand of his distributor's (Ed Helms) money and has to make it up by smuggling a camper full of weed from Mexico back to Denver, sucks. Sudeikis enlists a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a young runaway (Emma Roberts), and the sweet neighbor boy who inadvertently got him into the mess (Will Poulter) to pass themselves off as the average American family and avoid getting stopped at the border. 

The plot is too preposterous to waste time discussing. Every time the "Millers" are in danger of being discovered, stopped, imprisoned or killed (including by the stereotypical Mexican kingpin who actually owns the weed Helms had them drive off with), something or someone comes from out of nowhere to save their asses. Miracle getaway after miracle getaway, including one at the border crossing itself that must be seen to be believed. It's when director Rawson Marshall Thurber slows down and gives the cast room for some character-based comedy that the movie smartens up and produces a surprising number of very big laughs.

Nothing about Jason Sudeikis suggests a future as a leading man. Physically nondescript, his flat comic style adds nothing to his material. If it's funny, he can deliver it passably; if it's not, he's in trouble, and too often Thurber is reduced to having him shriek disproportionate obscenities at nice people. Jennifer Aniston, though, may have finally found a hit. This is the first time in a long time when it feels like the audience is entirely on her side. I like that she's not aloof or prissy here; she gives as good as she gets, and in a couple of gratuitous but well-done stripping scenes we can see the hot body that satisfied Brad until Angelina came along. 

The movie also boasts some memorable supporting turns. Roberts is nothing special in an underwritten part, but Poulter's terrific at bringing out the lovable singularity of Kenny, whose sing-along to TLC's "Waterfalls" borders on instant classic. Helms, from the "Hangover" movies, is totally miscast in an ill-defined role (is his Brad Gurlinger supposed to be menacing, or wiggerish, or just a rich eccentric?), but Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn almost steal the movie as a couple (he a demoted DEA agent, she a cloyingly sweet busybody) who meet the Millers at the border and help them tow their RV when it overheats. The two married "couples" share an unexpected (and unwanted) moment of intimacy in a tent that had my audience convulsing with laughter.

And I must say a special word about Mark L. Young as Scottie P., the tatted and unkempt ride operator Roberts takes up with at a carnival. Everything he said made me laugh - we've all met someone like this guy - and it's a sign of how mixed-up the movie is that if it hadn't drawn attention to Scottie P.'s "No Ragrets" tattoo, it might have been one of the great sight gags of recent times (think "He asked for a 13, but they drew a 31"). But Thurber doesn't trust us to catch it ourselves; he has Sudeikis call him out on it: "No ragrets, huh? Not even a single letter?"

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