Maybe I’m as juvenile as my wife thinks, but the bit in trailer for Rawson Marshall Thurber’s We’re the Millers where Jason Sudeikis, as a scheming drug mule who hires a fake family to smuggle drugs across the border, launches into a Bane voice (spoofing Tom Hardy’s villain from The Dark Knight Rises) just sends me into a fit of hysterical laughter. It is an odd admission for a professional critic to make, but I believe that voice is an instrument of comic genius — there’s so much sketch potential to use it in various situations. Imagine Bane reading school announcements in the morning or working the technical support call lines. An old favorite among my crew of movie-addled cohorts is Bane at a club or a bar trying to pick up women. The mind reels.
So that’s the set-up, cueing you in to my expectations for We’re the Millers. I just wanted to see Sudeikis do his Bane impression, maybe get a follow-up line or two in the voice and I could skip the rest of what I assumed would have been just a boatload of broad R-rated hijinks in search of a through-line of narrative coherence. By now, audiences know the drill — the more discriminating viewers out there read up on things before making the trek into the multiplexes — and a movie with writing credits featuring the conjunction “and” along with ampersands, well, that sounds all kinds of alarms, right? (The listing here includes a story by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber with a screenplay by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber and Sean Anders & John Morris. See what I mean?)
Plus, there’s the presence of Jennifer Aniston, which is another red flag, at least for me.
I engaged in a heroic yet ultimately losing effort to avoid Friends. Ubiquity reigns, but I fought the good fight and my primary adversary from the cast of the show seemed to be Aniston. She was America’s sweetheart complete with the bland good girl looks and the tabloid life with Brad Pitt, none of which I wanted to support with my time or attention (although she had fleeting subversive moments like The Good Girl where she nearly broke through my stalwart defenses). The last time she hit me with a bit of the good old shock and awe was in Horrible Bosses, her first ensemble pairing with Sudeikis.
We’re the Millers presents Sudeikis as David, a street-level pot dealer and aging stoner still living the dream, just getting by and staying high. He’s not a bad guy. He just works for a bad guy. That would be his college buddy Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) who has turned their dorm hustle into a drug empire. David tosses off the occasional freebie to the needy and he’s even willing to step in between his dorky downstairs neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) and a group of punks who are sticking up a neighborhood waif named Casey (Emma Roberts). The problem is David’s samaritan efforts result in him being robbed of his supply and his stash of saved cash, which means he has to resort to making a deal with the devilish Brad to go down to Mexico and bring back a smidge and a half of pot (enough to fill a deluxe RV) in order to square things up. David enlists Kenny, Casey and Rose (Aniston), the not-so-friendly stripper from across the hall, to stand in as his fake family to smuggle the drugs into the country.
The family that’s not a family that becomes a family in the face of adversity is so much more than just a comedic sketch in the hands of Sudeikis and company because, right off the bat, there’s an organic development of the characters in situations. We see David interacting with these individuals and we believe in them, despite the absurdity of their predicaments. They bumble along through the aftermath of Kenny’s botched first kiss opportunity and when Casey and Rose teach him a few tricks — in a back and forth kiss-a-thon — we know what is to come, but we get lost in the sheer enjoyment of the moment.
We’re the Millers is the kind of make believe that’s almost magical because it makes audiences believe in a premise that’s little more than a contrivance at first glance. But buried beneath all of that is a promise fulfilled, which pays off far more than even the contact high of a sure-fire gag. (R) Grade: B+
CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: firstname.lastname@example.org