Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R for crude sexual content, passive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.
Running time: 110 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
Jennifer Aniston is beautiful and stylish and envied with her trend-setting hair and yoga-toned body and the ability to achieve longevity in a fickle industry with her girl-next-door likability. But man, is she terrible at picking movie roles.
For the most part, that is. When she’s dared to go small and dark in indie dramas — as a miserable store clerk in 2002’s “The Good Girl,” or a miserable maid in 2006’s “Friends With Money” — she’s gotten a chance to stretch, and flex, and it’s been exciting to watch. Who knew that was in her all this time when she was playing girlfriends and wives and magical women who make things better for the men in their lives? I actually had to go onto IMDb just now to remind myself what “Love Happens” was. That’s how forgettably bland some of her big-studio choices have been.
All of which makes her performance in “We’re the Millers” so welcome, and so refreshing for its dirtiness. Aniston co-stars as Rose, a stripper (with a heart of gold, of course) who gets roped into helping Jason Sudeikis’ small-time drug dealer transport an enormous supply of pot into the United States from Mexico. She is reluctant to do this at first. She can’t stand Sudeikis’ cocky, quick-talking David, her grungy neighbor in the apartment building where she’s on the verge of being evicted. Naturally, this means they’ll fall for each other. (You’ve seen a movie before, right?)
David lands in deep trouble with the drug kingpin he works for (Ed Helms, looking slick and skinny as he plays against type) when a bunch of street thugs steal his weed and cash. To make it right, he must travel across the border and bring back a “smidge” of marijuana. He comes up with a plan to pretend he’s part of a wholesome American family on vacation, complete with a flashy, tricked-out RV — which comes in handy when he finds out how much pot he’s really picking up. But first, he needs a fake family, so he recruits Rose to play his loving wife along with runaway street urchin Casey (Emma Roberts) and eager-beaver virgin Kenny (Will Poulter) to pose as his clean-cut teenage children.
Will this fake family end up functioning as a real family in time? Of course they will. It’s pure formula — you can tell where “We’re the Millers” is going from the billboards alone. But to its credit, the comedy from director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”), from a script by small army of writers, stays mean and maintains a bit of an edge even when it threatens to go all soft and gooey. Scattered scenes produce laugh-out-loud moments, up to and including the ad-libbed outtakes during the closing credits (which frustratingly suggest an even better movie was possible if the actors had been given even more room to roam).
A scene in which Casey and Rose take turns teaching the innocent Kenny how to kiss is a prime example of the film’s subversive instincts. Actual tension builds, even though the punch line is pretty predictable. Sudeikis and Aniston also have some amusingly awkward exchanges with a legitimately wholesome American family on a road trip with their daughter, played with prim goofiness by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn. And Mark L. Young proves himself to be a scene-stealer as a gangsta rapper/Kid Rock wannabe named Scottie P. who brazenly hits on Casey and makes the ersatz Miller parents feel very old and stodgy in their disapproval.
Yes, the ethnic stereotypes are cliched and borderline offensive. Yes, the myriad pop culture references are hit and miss, as they are always wont to be. But there are enough laughs throughout to make “We’re the Millers” worthwhile as we enter the dog days of summer.
As for Aniston’s abilities as a stripper — er, exotic dancer: She looks spectacular, but she is incredibly stiff. But that’s part of the joke, and she’s clearly in on it, with no apologies.