We’re the Millers (2013), the new comedy from Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber, has the rare distinction of being both offensive and tedious at the same time. It’s like the bastard offspring of this year’s The Guilt Trip and 2010’s Horrible Bosses, languishing between a familial road movie and a gross-out comedy. Thurber aims for a please-all comic strategy that feels mischievously naughty while remaining ultimately safe and middle of the road, but the reality is a wholly unconfident, tonally disjunctive summer ride. Saturday Night Live stalwart Jason Sudeikis stars as David, a middle-aged drug dealer.
David recruits a band of misfits making up the nuclear idyll for a marijuana smuggling road to trip to Mexico and back. The script, written by the writers of Wedding Crashers and Hot Tub Time Machine, is quick to point out some crucial facts about the characters: David is a small-time dope-peddler, but he doesn’t sell to kids, Rose, played by Jennifer Aniston, is a stripper, not a prostitute, and Emma Roberts’ Casey is a runaway, not homeless. The film is perfectly content to play these cosily made distinctions for laughs, only giving us vague hints of the characters’ potentially tragic back stories (when fake son Kenny (Will Poulter) is asked where his mum is, he says she went out with a friend, “last week”).
Kenny happens to be the funniest presence in We’re the Millers, popping up like a meerkat with a face like Tintin, and is at the heart of its best scene: a quasi-incestuous snogging swap session which is inadvertently seen by the daughter of the real RV-dwelling all-American family they ride along with. Both families are being chased, inevitably, by a vicious Mexican drug lord (Tomer Sizley) and his Goliath-sized minion (Matthew Willig), a scenario that adds nothing apart from a lazy stereotype and an excuse to insert an Aniston striptease into the narrative, just in case we didn’t know she had an amazing body.
Rose’s transformation from hot stripper to the mum she always wanted to be feels not only implausible, but more importantly plotted throughout We’re the Millers to show that the glowing beacon of womanhood she missed in her life was looking after children. This is signalled when the biggest compliment David can pay her is that she’s a “great mom”; not to be sniffed of course, but at the same time not the only mark of a woman.