Yes, We’re the Millers (2013) is crude and outrageous and raunchy. It’s also painfully unfunny. Here’s a movie that spends its first two-thirds setting up situations it doesn’t pay off and it’s final third paying off a situation it doesn’t set up. That makes it a frustrating experience because the movie operates with absolutely no rules, which can work, except the things We’re the Millers is after require a set of rules that the movie is either too unwilling or too incompetent to provide.
Jason Sudeikis stars as David Clark, a small-time Denver drug dealer. When he is beaten up and robbed by a couple of toughs, he is threatened by his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) who wants to know why the dealing has stopped. Gurdlinger cuts David a deal: If David goes to Mexico and picks up a shipment of weed (Gurdlinger calls it a “smidge and a half” though it turns out to be hundreds of brick-size units), all will be forgiven and Gurdlinger will even give him an RV to travel in and pay him $100,000. Even with all the perks, David figures that it’s a fool’s errand. He doesn’t know how to smuggle drugs and a guy like him (who looks like a drug dealer) is going to get stopped the second he tries to return to America. He alights on a plan based on thinking he would have no problems were he the head of a normal-looking, unassuming family. He recruits the only people he knows—Kenny (Will Poulter), the awkward teen who lives alone in David’s building when his mother deserts him (Kenny is also ultimately responsible for the robbery that started David on this odyssey but no one seems to remember that), Casey (Emma Roberts), a runaway drifter who breaks into parking meters near where David lives, and Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper who is recently unemployed and evicted. Together they fly to Tuscon, pick up the RV and drive to Mexico, all while pretending to be the Cleaversesque Miller family.
During their adventures, it turns out that Gurdlinger has double-crossed David, sending him to steal the weed from a rival drug lord Pablo Chacon (Tomer Sisley), who subsequently hunts David and company. The fake Miller family also has continued run-ins with the Fitzgeralds, headed by Don (Nick Offerman) and Edie (Kathryn Hahn), the embodiment of the wholesome and square family the Millers are trying to impersonate, except that Don works for the DEA and wouldn’t appreciate David’s activities, if he weren’t such a swell (and oblivious) guy.
Strung about this framework are scenes of foul-language and sexual debauchery as the mock clan proves to be the worst foursome imaginable to try to pull this off. At different times, each member stupidly and recklessly gives up the ghost in front of a member of authority only to have a miraculous (and humor-deflating) twist of fate get them out of it. They bicker and fight, threaten to leave the proceedings and bitterly contest every little decision, which, in that respect, We’re the Millers faithfully shows the process of making a movie. As the story goes on, wouldn’t you know it, this ragtag group of misfits develops a genuine affection for each other and they become a real family. Except they don’t really develop it as much as in one scene they have no affection for each other then suddenly, they do and it’s totally genuine.
This is a lazy, half-baked movie that would be more insulting if it had the capacity at all to be taken seriously. This is the kind of movie in which a character like David will sport an Arthur Bryant’s T-shirt despite the fact we are reminded in an earlier scene with an old buddy that David has lived in Denver his entire life. Maybe David, when he isn’t drug-dealing, likes barbecue and travels the country looking for the best. Or maybe Jason Sudeikis is from Kansas City and wanted to rep his hometown in the movie and since nobody else seems to care about characterization, they said let’s do it. Take, for example, Rose the stripper, who does a better job of anyone at playing wholesome. The movie invents no narrative reason for the character to be a stripper other than its desire to photograph Jennifer Aniston stripping. That’s an understandable desire but it doesn’t necessarily make your movie any better. The idea must be that David is a low-life and that he must recruit other fringe members of society to be in his merry band, but Rose could have existed in any other of those fringes.
The rest of the Miller family resolves the baggage they brought into the expedition along the adventure: David’s self-absorption and dependence on himself is relieved by having to think of others, the runaway Casey learns to trust people, and the excruciatingly shy Kenny gains confidence. Rose has no real baggage coming in and while she uses her stripping prowess to get the team out of a tight spot, in actuality the method of their escape is completely superfluous to her stripping, which exists just as an excuse for another dozen shots of her body. Look, it’s fine to have a character in a movie be a stripper, Hell, I’m all for it, but it has to be relevant, just as David’s drug dealing, Casey’s homelessness and Kenny’s social ineptitude are, especially if you are going to ham-fistedly equate the adventure with some kind of fate-driven learning opportunity for all of them. And furthermore, why did Gurdlinger even send David to Mexico when he knew he was double-crossing him and it was a death trap? He had David in his custody early in the movie, why not just off him and save the RV? Everything falls apart the second you apply a little logic to it and while jokes don’t require airtight situations, if they are built on shifting sand, we notice.
There I go again, applying more thought to a movie than the filmmakers did. The only reason these irritating questions keep returning is because the movie patronizingly wants you to buy into its smarmy ending but to do that, it has to follow basic intelligence beforehand. If the movie has me asking, “Why do these people like each other?” as I walk out of the theater, it forces me to ask, “Why?” in relation to any number of other things during the drive home. And by the time I sit in front of my computer, the movie has piled up so many questions without answers I can hardly remember whether I laughed at all or not. My memory says, it’s possible but not too often.