Jason Sudeikis is a perfect fit for We're the Millers, which is a shame, since the movie isn't quite as funny as he is. During his time on Saturday Night Live, Sudeikis often played the handsome, average guy who, the longer you hung out with him, seemed stranger and stranger. He could be the straight man in other people's sketches—the news anchor, the boss, the cop—but he also could flash some nuttiness as Pete Twinkle, the bizarrely upbeat sports anchor, and Vance, the What Up With That backup dancer. He can be the crass jerk on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but he's also inoffensive enough to be the jolly voice of those Applebee's commercials. If Will Ferrell is the frat-house joker, Sudeikis is the upstanding, responsible fraternity president who gets into all kinds of trouble when no one's looking.
We're the Millers wants to have it both ways as well. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball), this R-rated comedy flaunts its swearing and inappropriate behavior, but also has a sweet core and some genuine heart. Some of the inappropriate stuff is great, and some of the sweetness is great, but there's not enough of either. We're the Millers has funny ideas, but it's not consistently inspired, and it goes on too long. There's a pretty great 85 minutes stuck in these 110.
The film stars Sudeikis as David, a Denver pot dealer who's still selling dimebags in his 30s. Single and self-absorbed, he doesn't mind that all of his college friends have long since settled down. Once he gets robbed of all his boss's (Ed Helms) money, he has to work off the massive debt by going to Mexico and picking up a large shipment of marijuana from some scary cartel thugs. Realizing that he'll need a cover story that won't raise suspicion as he tries to cross the border back into the U.S., David decides to rent an RV and recruit some of his neighbors to play his pretend white-bread family named the Millers: a no-nonsense stripper (Jennifer Aniston), an edgy homeless girl (Emma Roberts) and a dorky virgin (Will Poulter).
For a little while, We're the Millers gets some mileage out of watching these seemingly unsavory characters band together to play-act their condescending impression of super-friendly, syrupy-sweet Middle Americans. (Only the virgin fits the mold.) What's funniest is that, of course, this faux-family blends in perfectly with the dimwitted tourists and sightseers they meet along the way. Most Hollywood movies don't make fun of American mediocrity—hey, we're their audience!—but at its best We're the Millers has some of the same sting that Idiocracy had, satirizing the triumph of cheerful average-ness.
Unfortunately, that's not enough to fill a summer tentpole comedy, and so we also have a plot in which the cartel (led by Tomer Sisley) chase after the Millers, and the family reluctantly befriends a comically square couple (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) who think that in the Millers they've found good ol' normal people like them. (Plus, David has to get the drugs back to Denver by a certain time or he won't get the delivery money he desperately needs.) Thurber and his team of writers — four are credited — throw lots of stuff at the screen, including a couple of burgeoning love stories and a character arc in which David learns that he ought to care about other people. If that wasn't enough, you also feel the movie wrestling between its shocking side (Gay panic! Incest jokes! Aniston doing sexy stripteases!) and its sweeter side as this fake family starts resembling an actual family, something none of the characters have in their real life.
Aniston, as she showed in 2011's Horrible Bosses (also with Sudeikis), is game at sending up her demure-girl persona as Rose, the stripper who quickly takes to the role of the doting, capri-wearing Miller matriarch. (It's possible that this faux-mom guise is how Rachel would have actually ended up if Friends was still on the air.) But this really is Sudeikis's movie, giving him a chance to show different sides of his persona. As he proved on 30 Rock, the guy's a legitimate romantic leading man, and David's slow courtship of Rose has a couple surprisingly touching moments. Here, though, you get the sense that Sudeikis doesn't want to be just the heartthrob love interest: his whole career has been about subverting the expectations we have of him from his conventionally handsome exterior. We're the Millers isn't quite as good a showcase for his talents as one would hope, but it definitely is an encouraging sign of what he might do in the future.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.