The family road trip disaster comedy is a tried and true framework for a summer movie, from National Lampoon to Little Miss Sunshine. We’re the Millers tries to put a new spin on the story by taking a quartet of misfits masquerading as a family on the road as they smuggle pot across the U.S.-Mexico border.
It all starts when a big-hearted dork, Kenny (Will Poulter), and his pot dealer neighbor, David (Jason Sudeikis), defend a runaway girl from a group of thugs. Kenny naively reveals that David is a drug dealer and the thugs chase him down to steal his drugs and tens of thousands of dollars in cash. In order to recoup the losses he owes his boss (Ed Helms), David is forced to smuggle “a smidge and a half” of marijuana across the border. He’s understandably nervous about getting caught and going to prison, so he enlists Kenny, Casey the runaway (Emma Roberts), and Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper who lives in his building, to pose as his family. He figures that no one looks twice at a preppy family on vacation together. Little does he know, however, that he’s been sent on a much more dangerous job than he could have anticipated.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you have seen all the funniest parts of We’re the Millers. There are some genuine belly laughs, but for the most part the gross-out humor and gay-panic jokes are lazy and stale. The funniest parts are really one-liners or dialogue jokes made by Jason Sudeikis, but rather than play up these moments, the script leans heavily on gross-out humor that feels like a desperate attempt to turn a family vacation movie into a Judd Apatow movie. It’s a shame, too, because the lead cast actually has the chemistry to pull off the comedy, but the script is so clunky and uneven that it undermines their potential. Aniston and Sudeikis are able to portray the subtle shift from hating each other to bonding over the trip. As they gradually shift into parental figures for Casey and Kenny it feels sweet and funny, but then the movie throws in a hackneyed conflict and resolution that brings the film down. Will Poulter as Kenny provides the most heart and functional physical comedy. Although he is the center of a number of gross jokes, the moments when he uses slapstick or tries to be tough work as the pulse of the movie. Casey, however, doesn’t have enough depth as a character to give Emma Roberts much to do. There are hints of a back story, but the audience isn’t given enough to really connect with or understand her. As such, Roberts’s performance looks forced and the writers look like they don’t know how to write an adolescent girl.
The scenes in which the “Millers” interact with the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, and Molly Quinn) are a pretty good example of how the movie could have been better. The Fitzgeralds look like the kind of family the Millers are trying to be, which provides comedic contrast. The Fitzgeralds, however, are having some marriage-bed troubles and are looking to swing, highlighting the theme of people not being what they seem. Oh, and Don Fitzgerald is a DEA agent—bad news for the Millers. These scenes of good ensemble comedy are balanced out, however, by sex/body jokes that don’t work, stripper jokes, and lame plot twists.
When We’re the Millers is good, it’s pretty good; when it’s bad it’s really bad. For its uneven distribution of laughs and lazy use of gross-out comedy, I rate We’re the Millers 2.5/5 stars.
We’re the Millers was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris. It runs 110 minutes and is rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.