Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Reefer Bunch: "We're the Millers" smuggles enough laughs through its dry patches

We're the Millers (2013)
100 min., rated R.

If you want to see a commercial comedy where you'll be laughing so heartily you'll miss the next joke, "We're the Millers" isn't it, but "This Is the End" and "The Heat" came out this year, too. Recycling bits and pieces from 2006's "RV" and 2011's "Just Go with It" with F-bombs and numerous pounds of reefer thrown into the mix, this made-by-committee studio comedy is light and highly amusing most of the time but never as inspired as it could have been. A memorable movie comedy released during the dog days of summer is a rare bird, and while "We're the Millers" doesn't always hit the bull's-eye, it knows more often than not how to give you a good laugh. 

In this road-trip scenario, idle Denver weed dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) has a good gig going since he was in college. When he helps latchkey 18-year-old Kenny (Will Poulter) rescue a snarky, homeless runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts) from being jumped, David gets jumped himself, his entire stash being cleaned out. Of course, this puts him in a jam with his rich supplier, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who owns an orca whale in his giant office aquarium because he can. He owes Brad $43,000, so to pay off his debt, David agrees to be a mule in smuggling "a smidge and a half" of marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. Fearful that he won't make it back crossing the border alone, he concocts a plan: hiring some strangers to play an All-American family on vacation in an RV. David has a prickly passing relationship with his apartment neighbor, a struggling stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston), and offers her a cut of the money to pretend to be his wife, with Kenny and Casey as their kids. Getting the Mary Jane stuffed into every cabinet of their motor home will be a cinch for the so-called Miller family, but crossing the border — it should all go as David planned, right? And might they grow to act like a real family?

Breezily directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story") and scribed by a quartet of screenwriters—Bob Fisher & Steve Faber ("Wedding Crashers") and Sean Anders & John Morris ("Hot Tub Time Machine")—"We're the Millers" is equal parts acerbic and vulgar, officially finding a more consistent groove once the "Millers" actually collect the loot of weed. Few will come to this high-concept romp for the drug-smuggling plot and falsely sentimental bromides about family bonding, but the ridiculous setup wrings out enough scattered laughs to forgive how contrived and labored it might be. The film's heights of hilarity could be summed up in a 45-minute reel, but even with its dry patches, one can find as much to enjoy with the comic detours having a few unexpected payoffs. A sight gag involving a tarantula and Kenny's genitalia recalls the Farrelly brothers, not only in that we get a quick shot of grotesque nudity but that said shot takes the joke of the situation one step further rather than existing purely for shock value. Other madcap, taboo-bashing highlights include David and Rose inadvertently bringing out the swinging side in chirpy, square, and sexually stagnant on-the-road couple Don (Nick Offerman) and Edie Fitzgerald (Kathryn Hahn), and Kenny receiving kissing advice from his "sister" and "mom" to use on the Fitzgeralds' teenage daughter Melissa (Molly C. Quinn).

Recent "Saturday Night Live" alum Jason Sudeikis has no problem firing off a rude, offensively funny one-liner, but he has less luck in navigating a convincing arc for the jerky David. Luckily, by his side, Jennifer Aniston is not only an effortlessly radiant presence, as always, but more fun and interesting when cutting loose ("Just Go with It," "Horrible Bosses," and "Wanderlust") rather than playing a hopeless romantic. When she's not giving surprising zip to a line and pretending to rock baby "LeBron" (really, a brick of grass), the successful former "Friends" alumna gets to showcase her body (in a lacey bra and panties only, of course) when Rose uses her pole-dancing skills as a distraction to Mexican drug dealers. (Speaking of "Friends," stay for the end credits' outtakes.) As the fast-thinking, eye-rolling Casey, Emma Roberts is comedically skilled in her own right, even if she's given the least to play, but 20-year-old Brit Will Poulter is easily the MVP of the two kids, especially when the virginal Kenny adorably owns the rap from TLC's "Waterfalls." Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn have game, priceless supporting turns as the Fitzgeralds (the latter's "it's like throwing a hot dog down a hallway" line is a scream), and Mark L. Young is just perfect as Scottie P., a dopey carny with more hair and tattoos than brains.

For a mainstream R-rated comedy about a phony family smuggling drugs, one can tell where the studio notes came in to soften the edges. However, until then, the sharp cast keeps on easing the moments that might have been worthy of a groan. Like a vacation to the local park instead of Disney World, "We're the Millers" doesn't shatter the laugh-o-meter, but it's a fun, salty-sweet time and offers a decent enough buzz for the end of the summer.

Grade: B - 

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