By mid-August, the remaining summer blockbusters are either slinking out of theaters in embarrassment or staggering out in triumph, clutching what’s left of everyone’s money. With superhero and CGI season winding down, movie bigwigs should know the time is right for something different. Releasing a rude, tasteless comedy like We’re the Millers, which peddles gross gags and sex instead of monsters and explosions, is not only a welcome change of pace; there’s a good chance it could make some serious hay at the box office. And sure enough, We’re the Millers nearly recouped its budget during its successful opening weekend. But its canny release date is its biggest and most notable achievement.
All of the relevant plot points and most of the big comic set pieces in We’re the Millers have already been shown in the film’s trailer. But in case you missed it, here’s the setup: Jason Sudeikis is a Colorado drug dealer who, in order to pay off a debt to his old college buddy (Ed Helms) convinces some neighborhood rascals — a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a teen refugee (Emma Roberts), and a virginal young man (Will Poulter) — to pose as his fake family while he tries to drive an RV full of marijuana from Mexico to Denver.
Like most families on a long road trip, this motley bunch suffers its share of mishaps and misunderstandings. But eventually these four people start to care about each other, so much so that there’s a long, potentially hysterical scene where Mom and Sis teach Little Brother how to kiss while Dad watches.
For a couple of minutes, that impromptu make-out session between Roberts, Poulter, and Aniston looks like it might fulfill the film’s promise of risky, taboo-flouting fun. Like the film’s two other funny sex jokes, this scene works because its absurdity is kept cool and casual. Similarly, the great Luis Guzman’s cameo as a lonely Mexican cop looking for a bribe skunk-sprays the film with a kinky amorality that, unfortunately, dissipates once he blows a farewell kiss and rides away on his motorcycle.
Finding fun elsewhere in We’re the Millers is hard work. Yes, Aniston is marginally funnier and meaner than she was in 2011’s Horrible Bosses, and yes, her striptease is as gratuitous, inappropriate, and awesome a celebration of the female form as Jessica Biel’s interlude with Adam Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. But that scene doesn’t compensate for the misuse of Nick Offerman, a mellow comic artist whose ongoing work in the twin media of understatement and facial hair deserves greater recognition. As for the other performers, Poulter’s McLovin routine is tiresome enough before he starts singing along to TLC’s “Waterfalls.” I don’t know when, how, or why mentioning TLC became a comedy shibboleth, but didn’t Michael Keaton already get all those TLC-based laughs in The Other Guys?
We’re the Millers may have gotten a lot of people’s money, but it’s about to leave my brain forever at the end of this sentence.