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Movie review: Sharp comedy goes soft in 'We're the Millers'

Published August 9, 2013 7:16 pm

Review • Filmmakers lose nerve in keeping raunchy tone .
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I don't like to use the phrase "guilty pleasure" when describing a movie, because people must find pleasure in movies where they can without fear of guilt.

But "We're the Millers" comes very close to qualifying as a "guilty pleasure." It's by no means a well-made movie, with a script that tries to be offensively raunchy and then manipulate audiences into feeling sympathy for its despicable characters. Even so, I laughed a lot, though I'll feel bad about it later.

Jason Sudeikis, just departed from "Saturday Night Live," stars as David Clark, a dime-bag marijuana dealer in Denver whose apartment is robbed of his inventory and a lot of cash. David's supplier, the rich and thuggish Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), threatens to kill him if he doesn't make good by smuggling "a smidge" of marijuana from Mexico.

David hits upon the idea that a dorky suburban family in an RV would never arouse Border Patrol suspicions. So he hires a fake family that consists of: His neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper; his nerdy teen neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter); and foul-mouthed homeless teen Casey (Emma Roberts).

Misadventures accumulate on the road, including encounters with a corrupt Mexican cop (Luis Guzman), a shootout with Brad's rival drug lord (Tomer Sisley), and a meet-up with another RV-going family whose patriarch (Nick Offerman) happens to be a vacationing DEA agent.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Dodgeball") tries to stay true to David's scruffy amoral personality, with gags that are as unapologetically mean-spirited as the character. But the tag-teamed script (credited to four writers) chickens out by giving the characters a facsimile of human feelings, which fails in generating pathos while also short-circuiting the comedy.

The story also plays up the limitations of its lead actors. Sudeikis aims to depict David's profession as a slightly more comic version of the meth trade of "Breaking Bad," but Sudeikis doesn't even approach Bryan Cranston's chops. Then there's the idea of the primped and plastic Aniston playing a stripper, perhaps the least realistic portrayal of a sex worker since Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman."

But, like I said, I laughed frequently throughout "We're the Millers," particularly at Poulter's clueless virgin teen and at Kathryn Hahn as Offerman's uptight wife. But the biggest laugh, by far, wasn't anything any of the characters did, but a prank shown in the over-the-credits outtakes. When the funniest thing in a movie isn't technically in the movie, it's the filmmakers who should be feeling a little guilty. —

HHhj

'We're the Millers'

A marijuana dealer concocts a fake family to help in a smuggling job, in this raunchy comedy.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Wednesday, August 7.

Rating • R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.

Running time • 110 minutes.