‘We’re the Millers’: Not-quite-guilty pleasure

August 7, 2013

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Comedy is subjective, so there are bound to be haters for “We’re the Millers.”

But, speaking as someone who enjoys vulgar humor that is both mean and smart, I can tell you that I laughed a lot during this brisk, consistently funny movie. It was one of those films where, having seen its trailers, I felt that I’d already been exposed to every comedy bit in the film that actually worked.

Like a predecessor in a similar vein, “The Hangover,” “We’re the Millers” delivers even more than its trailer promises. You have to have an appetite for humor that bounces between the scatological, the obscene and the just plain wrong. Not all the jokes work, but enough do that you laugh right through to the end.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) from a script by the writers of “Wedding Crashers” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “We’re the Millers” seems like a one-joke movie, but sheds layers as it reveals a deeper bit of thinking – but just a bit. Meanwhile, it crosses all sorts of lines, while taking a simple concept and going to unexpected places.

At the center of the story is David (Jason Sudeikis), a small-time Denver pot dealer whose stash of both cash and weed are stolen. To keep his supplier (a very funny Ed Helms, doing what amounts to a drive-by) happy, David agrees to retrieve a huge stash of marijuana from Mexico and bring it back to Denver. His brainstorm: dress up like a square middle-American family on a vacation in a conspicuous RV and use that disguise to smuggle the stash.

His makeshift family consists of acquaintances with whom he’s barely on speaking terms: a stripper who lives in his building (Jennifer Aniston), a nerdy teen who also lives in a nearby apartment (Will Poulter) and a street punk who loiters in the vicinity (Emma Roberts). Together, they dress the roles of the Miller family and head for Mexico, where the fun begins.

Aside from unintentionally robbing a major Mexican cartel leader, the four find themselves coping with a mechanical breakdown in a camper full of weed. Their rescuers: a similarly square couple, played with delicious energy by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn.

The plotting is outrageous and the actors play it all with enough of a straight face to draw the laughs. Even as they find the energy to deliver the most withering one-liners, they also find the right level of emotional depth to handle the obligatory “oh, grow up” moment that each of these misfits must undergo. Thurber keeps things moving quickly enough that even the formula moments feel sleek and energized.

Sudeikis has the right blend of sincerity and total crassness that sells the one effectively, without dulling the edge when he’s at his most cruel and crude. He can play above-it-all effectively, even while letting on subtly when Aniston cracks his hard shell. She’s wonderfully hardened herself, as a woman who has seen all the worst sides of men.

Roberts and Poulter are perfectly mismatched, her tiny and vicious, him lanky and open-faced. And Offerman and Hahn ought to have their own sit-com – their chemistry is that strong.

Yes, “We’re the Millers” counts on comedy shocks for laughs – but it makes them outlandishly weird and surprising. Give yourself up to it and you’ll laugh your way through this buoyantly dirty comedy.

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