For various reasons, I haven’t written about new movies for some time, but I have been seeing them. A few thumbnail impressions: I regret that the superior Pacific Rim got lost in a tangle of big-budget duds that imploded around it. though I may be the last American viewer left with a passing interest in seeing White House Down, and, I’ll admit it, The Lone Ranger. (That bad?) Cate Blanchett, a rock-solid Andrew Dice Clay (yes), and other fine actors pump up Blue Jasmine as Woody Allen’s promising script steadily deflates. With the diminishment of the Voting Rights Act and the Trayvon Martin verdict, Fruitvale Station is more affecting in restrospect than when I saw it, before all that happened; though made conscientiously, and with a certain urgency, I found it dry. Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is a weirdly beguiling dispatch from the far off land of electronics geekdom (1980), made with equipment from that time for an extra shot of verisimilitude. Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha–still playing somewhere, still worth seeing. Elysium is worth the effort of me going to see it, probably.
Again, for various reasons, the stars of schedules and timing must align for me to get to a regular movie, let alone a preview screening. On Monday night, they did. So off I went to see We’re the Millers.
Because it was a night out, I was a little more psyched to see it than most of the critical brethren, who had their Rotten Tomatoes at the ready before the first frame left the projector. They had their reasons, three that I grasp.
1) Jennifer Aniston, trailing a film career of unfulfilled promise (not one credit of substance since 2006, almost one inanity after another since), coasting, coasting, coasting. Add to that her peekaboo games with the tabloids–is she in a relationship? Is she getting married? Is she pregnant? Is she pregnant and getting married?–and, yeah, she’s pretty fucking unbearable, if you think about her. I don’t, not much. (Is there anything to think about Jennifer Aniston? I’ll say this–she has stomped on the forgotten Katherine Heigl, left her for dead.)
2) Jason Sudeikis. For every Saturday Night Live graduate who leaves the show head held high, like Kristen Wiig, there’s an Andy Samberg who…what am I saying, who am I kidding, I haven’t watched a complete episode since Bill Murray left, when the computer chess games were being played. The show is a comedy mill, grinding out sketches and personalities like cartons of milk. I have trouble telling Sudeikis from Ed Helms, which is a bit of a problem, as they share all of their scenes together in We’re the Millers, and may as well be twins.
3) A screenplay from the writing teams behind the mediocre Wedding Crashers and Hot Tub Time Machine, which was not apparent to me until I took my seat and read the notes. Gotcha.
For all these disabilities, We’re the Millers is fitfully amusing if you’re in the mood to be fitfully amused, as I was. It’s one part Weeds (pot-dealing family), one part Third Rock from the Sun (a false, contrived family up to no good, funny no good), and one part National Lampoon’s Vacation (pot-dealing false family on a run from Mexico to Denver, though calling it an “action comedy,” as the notes do, is a stretch.) The doughy, affable Sudeikis (adjectives that can be applied to a lot of SNL men) is David, a forlorn pot dealer in Colorado obliged to become a pot smuggler when he loses his stash to thieves and his chipper boss (Helms) requires him to make restitution. Nervous over this career change, one that will require him to cross the border for a “smidge” of marijuana, David disguises himself as a square family man, and cajoles stripper neighbor Rose (Aniston), neglected teen Kenny (Will Poulter), and homeless misfit Casey (Emma Roberts) to join him in a big-ass RV. They need the ride, as a smidge turns out to be metric tons of the stuff, just one of many duplicities to come.
We’re the Millers is not one part Up in Smoke. Cheech and Chong would weep at a film where hardly anyone tokes up, that being an apparent no-no even in a R-rated comedy these days. Instead the movie finds laughs–rather thinly apportioned over 110 minutes, but genuine when they come–from the personality switcheroos as the “Millers” settle into their middle-class facades and wind up involved with another, more tightly wound family of travelers, the Fitzgeralds, played by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn. The situations aren’t necessarily comic gold–the Fitzgeralds, feeling liberated by the Millers’ looseness, lurch toward a four-way, their sweet daughter Melissa (Molly Quinn) mistaking a kissing lesson given to geeky Kenny by his “mom” and “sister” for incest–but the actors have enough zest to vamp with what they’ve got. (That includes Aniston, who was funny, after all, slinging the double entendres of Horrible Bosses, her last movie with Sudeikis, and who gets to striptease here while playing, to what is hoped to appeal to her fanbase, a concerned mom by proxy.) The find here is Poulter, a Brit (talk about a false front) who’s a dead ringer for Howdy Doody, and who manages every goofy thing thrown at him (tarantula bites, oral sex offers from border cop Luis Guzman) with aplomb.
Generically directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), We’re the Millers is synthetic multiplex filler, no more, no less. Not an outright flop like The Hangover Part III, I can’t really put the hate on it, even if it didn’t leave me rushing to Netflix to fill in the blanks on its stars’ resumes. Let me clear my conscience by reminding you, again, that Before Midnight is still out there.