By Will Ashton
Some people that have seen the promotional materials for We’re the Millers have been quick to compare it to the Chevy Chase-classic Vacation. It’s easy to see where they are coming from.
Both films are very much centered on adult themed, but family orientated, comedy that hopes to drive at anyone who’s been in a suburban family. Or, at least, has some passing familiarity with them.
But, I can say, with at least some level of confidence, that We’re the Millers is no Vacation.
After getting his stash and his money stolen, small-time drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is forced by his provider Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) to participate as a drug mule across the Mexican border in order to bring to the States “a smidge” of weed. Knowing full well that his cover will be blown if he goes into the country alone, he gets the help of a local stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), an abandoned kid Kenny (Will Poulter) and a runaway punk Casey (Emma Roberts) to pretend they’re a family to lay aside suspension of their activities. While things go accordingly at first, it’s not long before trouble seems to follow closely behind in their direction.
It’s been nine years since director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s last mainstream comedy, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. While he was able to make the drama The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in-between — a film, I believe, only myself and five other people have actually seen— his presence on the big screen has been notably absent. Which is a bit sad, considering that his debut was actually a pretty amusing and engaging film.
The movie’s got a director who’s proven himself with this type of mid-level silly/over-the-top comedy, and a cast that appears to be pretty game. The fault, then, seems to lie in its uninspired script, written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders and John Morris (four writers, always a sign of greatness).
Like many road trip movies we’ve seen recently, mainly Due Date and Identity Thief, We’re the Millers has such a thinly-written story that it runs out of steam before it even hits the halfway mark. Because of this, the movie, inevitably, has to fill itself with stereotypical subplots and wacky, routine side-bump shenanigans that only gets mildly spiced up thanks to its R-rating.
Speaking of the R-rating, I think this may be among the tamer R-rated “raunchy” comedies that I have seen so far this year. It doesn’t have the dark edginess that This is the End provided, or the confidently sexual raunchiness that The To Do List gave only a couple weeks ago. Hell, it doesn’t even accomplish the go-for-broke attempts at raunchiness that The Heat aimed for. I mean, sure, it has more cussing than the tame PG-13 affair like Red 2 and The Internship. But, behind all the foul language, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before.
I don’t remember ever laughing in We’re the Millers. Did I chuckle? A few times. Smiled at some jokes here and there? Guilty as charged. But, laughed? I can’t say that I did. The movie will occasionally provide some mildly amusing one-liners, mainly from either Sudeikis or Poulter. But, if you’re looking for laughs, and I assume you would if you’re seeing a comedy, there’s nothing here really to recommend.
Of the two half-hearted chuckles that I got from this movie, one came from its blooper reel. The other, just so it’ll be known, came from a scene that involved a haircut earlier in the film. Yes, this is another comedy where it appears that the cast had a good amount of fun behind-the-scenes, but the joy doesn’t quite transcend through the editing room.
I like Sudeikis, mainly for his work on SNL. But he still has yet to star in a good movie, at least as a main character. His best film, that I have seen, has been last year’s The Campaign, which was really just average if anything else. And he wasn’t really in the movie that much.
While he can be funny, his biggest problem seems to be that he’s just too much of a guy. By that, I mean that, while he’s certainly got a likeable presence to him, there’s nothing distinct or memorable about him that really warrants him leading man material. Well, besides his good looks.
In bringing back comparisons to Vacation, Sudeikis seems to be going for Chase’s style of comedy in We’re the Millers. He wants to have the typical-guy-who’s-actually-the-smartest-in-the-room persona found in Vacation, Fletch and SNL. And, perhaps with better material, Sudeikis can achieve this level of comedy. But the material he’s got here doesn’t give him the goods. He’ll give a quip that’s alright here and there. At times, he’ll bring back slight memories of Chevy’s glory days (though, anyone who has watched Community will know that he’s still got it). But, ultimately, this is not the film that will aspire him to that level.
I appreciate that Aniston is starting to break away more from her standard PG-13 rom-com material and has begun to expand her reach into R-rated material. While I’m not much of a fan of the very mediocre Horrible Bosses, which also stars Sudeikis, her against-type performance was easily among the better things about the film.
And last year’s Wanderlust, at least I felt, was a surprisingly decent comedy that was a nice branch between her sweeter material from the past and the edgier material that she is pushing herself towards these days. I guess that it’s too much to ask that she goes out and makes another The Good Girl— which, for the record, is easily her best performance and possibly best film to date. But I like that she, at least, is continuing to push her image.
That all said, however, Aniston doesn’t really contribute much to the film. Besides a very forced scene involving her stripping in the middle of a warehouse and allowing herself to play off of the other actors in the film, she never really gives any lines that stand out, or does anything that makes you laugh. I don’t want to say that she is just kinda there, but she’s just kinda there.
In addition to the ones mentioned, talented comedic actors Luis Guzman and Nick Offerman also show up hoping to score some laughs. But their efforts are futile, and ultimately they provide nothing more than filler.
We’re the Millers is not the worse comedy I’ve seen this year, nor even the worse comedy that I have seen this summer. But, ultimately, it’s just pretty lame. Which is pretty sad, considering the fact that the comedy department was finally starting to pick up a little bit, as The To Do List and The Way, Way Back were both pretty funny. Oh well. Hopefully, The World’s End will come in and save the day soon.