There are some performers, like Zach Galifianakis or Will Ferrell, who can pretty much just stand there alone on screen and be funny. There are other performers though, like Owen Wilson or Vince Vaughn, who do their best work opposite someone else who they can play off of to laugh out loud effect. Jason Sudeikis seems to belong to the latter category. He can get laughs, but he gets more when he shares both the screen and some chemistry with another actor.
He shares the screen quite a bit in We’re the Millers, but that chemistry is a bit harder to come by on a consistent basis.
David Clark (Sudeikis) is living the dream. He’s in his mid-30s with no wife, no kids, no real responsibilities and he seems to like it that way. He even has a cushy job, so to speak. He sells weed. Not a huge amount or anything, but enough to make a living and still put some back into savings. But when he gets caught up trying to help a well-meaning kid from his apartment building, he ends up getting robbed, losing all of his cash and product.
Stuck and desperate he agrees to do a drug run to Mexico for his supplier who has agreed to wipe out his debt and even pay him $100,000 on top of that to bring back a small amount of weed. David decides that a family would attract less attention so he grabs the kid (Will Poulter), a homeless girl (Emma Roberts) and the stripper he has a bit of a crush on (Jennifer Aniston) and heads down to Mexico. But when the smidge of marijuana turns out to be a metric shit ton, the danger and the laughs heat up quickly.
We’re the Millers is a perfectly sound film from a technical standpoint. It’s well shot, well acted and decently directed and written with those last two being acceptable if somewhat uninspired. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who gained some prominence with Dodgeball, crafts an okay film with few flourishes. The moments when he does try some stylistic things – namely a scene going through the airport security line and one where Aniston strip teases in the mechanic shop – feel more like a music video than a movie, but perhaps that was the intention.
For the most part, the cast of the film is strong. Sudeikis and Aniston are both pretty good, Nick Offerman is great as usual as an affable, cheesy family man, and Roberts is surprisingly funny and adept at her role, but Poulter may well be the best thing about the whole film. His turn as an intensely likable kid trying to find his place in the world gets more than his share of laughs. In fact the only weak link in the cast is Ed Helms as the man demanding the drug shipment. He’s usually pretty funny but isn’t given a whole lot to work with here. Instead he ends up more of a device to move the plot along than a character in his own right.
Aniston is often the target of critical flack, but she really does a good job here in a role that seems like it might have been outside her comfort zone. Casting her as a stripper may feel outside of the box, but she mostly sells it. Her looks are never the issue, but she has kind of a good girl image that doesn’t exactly mesh with that of a hardened stripper. Nonetheless, she pretty much pulls it off and holds her own comedically as well, even getting the best of Sudeikis from time to time.
What the casting doesn’t do is give Sudeikis someone specific to play off. In Horrible Bosses he had the straight man in Jason Bateman and the hyperactive Charlie Day to fit in between and balance, and in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, man child Tyler Labine offered someone to clash with. Here he has to play both the good guy and the dick, and while that could be over-simplified or described as simply having to play a dynamic character, that’s not really the issue. The issue is that Sudeikis is better at picking one side and finding the humor there while someone else has the contrasting role. As it is, he has to spread his chemistry across the other three leads and sometimes it works out better than others. What you’re left with is a funny film that never gets really funny. It’s fine, but not thrilling, the film version of eating at Chili’s.
We’re the Millers might suffer slightly from the fact that most of the best moments are shown in the trailer, but thankfully these bits tend to be longer scenes like the “Waterfalls” sing-a-long, the spider bite and Aniston’s strip tease so there’s some footage you haven’t seen yet, but the laughs are not quite as big since you know they’re coming.
The rest of the film is mostly fine filler with funny moments sprinkled liberally throughout. As is usually the case, some work better than others, but the film never gets bogged down or boring. It’s brisk, mostly fluffy entertainment that’s a perfectly good way to spend two hours, even though it will be probably be forgotten by next week.
The Upside: Great cast; consistent laughs; good pacing
The Downside: While there’s plenty of humor that hits there are very few if any BIG laughs, it’s all fine and fun to watch but nothing that’s going to have you rolling in the aisles; Ed Helms is surprisingly unfunny; a little bland
On the Side: The gangster Pablo Chacon is played by Tomer Sisley who you may remember as Vincent the cop in Sleepless Night. And if you don’t, then you should rent Sleepless Night.