August 07, 2013

We're the Millers

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



We're the Millers

COMEDY:

United States, 2013

U.S. Release Date:

2013-08-07

Running Length:

1:50

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly C. Quinn, Ed Helms

Director:

Rawson Marshall Thurber

Screenplay:

Bob Fisher & Steve Faber and Sean Anders & John Morris

Cinematography:

Barry Peterson

Music:

Ludwig Goransson, Theodore Shapiro

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


Of all the cast members of the former Friends, Jennifer Aniston is by far the most successful. But there's no correlation between "success" and "quality." For a while, Aniston showed a willingness to try different things and experiment (her high point being The Good Girl) but, in the past decade, she has fallen into a depressing rut. There's a sameness to her films and her characters rarely show any range or depth. A "Jennifer Aniston movie" has become synonymous with "derivative, lackluster mediocrity," and it's a shame. We know she has both talent and charisma but nothing on her recent resume has allowed her to display those qualities. So we're stuck with films that are at best forgettable and at worst painful. We're the Millers falls in between those two extremes, closer to the latter than the former.

We're the Millers is a comedy and, to say something nice about it, it contains its share of worthwhile moments and tiny pleasures. Some of the jokes are funny. If one was to compile all the good snippets and scenes into a highlight reel, it might run about six minutes. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole has a running time of 110 minutes. That means that, accounting for credits, there's close to 100 minutes of tedium to endure, which results in a mathematical ratio of 16:1 in favor of the drab, the monotonous, and the just plain boring. I think of a number of better ways to spend $10. Sorry, but the sight of Jennifer Aniston in translucent underwear imitating Jennifer Beals from Flashdance (to the wrong music) just ain't worth it.

The film doesn't have a good handle on what it wants to be. There's some sense that it covets the naughty tone of those raunchy, expletive-laden comedies like The Hangover, but it never commits fully. Aside from Aniston and co-stars Emma Roberts and Jason Sudeikis dropping the f-bomb every few minutes, there's nothing extraordinary about the profanity. The only nudity is a shot of prosthetic male genitalia. It's supposed to be funny and maybe 11-year old boys will think it is. But the humor lacks an edge and seems strangely unwilling to offend. Take, for example, the scene in which a gay policeman wants a sexual favor as a bribe. The film plays with this for a while but eventually finds a way out. The problem may be that We're the Millers is trying to be a "comedy with a heart" but the sentimental aspect is inelegantly grafted on and comes across as artificial and scripted. It's possible to have a feel-good raunchy comedy but the formula, if there is one, eludes director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his team of writers.

The premise is thin. David (Sudeikis) is a small-time drug dealer who ends up in a bad situation when thugs steal his stash and cash. Now, he's in debt to the tune of about $40,000 to his supplier (Ed Helms) without an obvious way to pay up. The solution is for David to do a drug-run: enter Mexico, pick up a "smidge" of high-grade weed, and bring it back across the border. For his trouble, his debt will be paid off and he'll get $100,000. David reluctantly agrees. Since vacationing families are routinely ignored at border crossings, he decides to "adopt" a temporary wife and kids for the trip. Joining him are a stripper, Rose (Aniston); a homeless girl, Casey (Emma Roberts); and a boy with an absentee mother, Kenny (Will Poulter). Posing as The Millers, they head south, get the drugs, then cross back into the U.S. That's when their difficulties begin.

It's obvious the movie is in some trouble when the smuggling has been completed 45 minutes into the proceedings. The rest of We're the Millers is occupied by desperate attempts to postpone the ending. We get angry drug lords, overly friendly campers interested in exploring their boundaries (this is another scene that could have been hilarious had the filmmakers been willing to push limits rather than pull back), and the obligatory bonding between "family members." By the time the end credits rolled, I was eager to get out of the theater even if it meant missing the obligatory outtakes.

A case could be made that We're the Millers might be suitable for home viewing where expectations are low and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Even then, however, a little fast-forwarding might be necessary to get through some of dead spots. Aniston fans are once again treated to a tease - this is yet another movie stripper who keeps her underwear on. Sudeikis fans may have the déjà vu feeling of watching a bad SNL sketch that never wants to end. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn inject a little energy but it doesn't last. We're the Millers is as generic as R-rated comedies get: a perfect vehicle to enhance Jennifer Aniston's motion picture reputation. It's not good enough to recommend nor bad enough to attract sadistic curiosity seekers in search of a train wreck. The budget was reportedly a skinny $30 million and, while that's not much by Hollywood standards, it still could have been better spent in any number of other ways, like paying the catering bill for the next James Cameron blockbuster.

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