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If you’re making a comedy, it probably should be funny. That sounds a little obvious, but if it really was that obvious we’d have a lot more funny movies. Over and over again in We’re the Millers ideas that probably seemed funny – ideas that maybe actually were funny once upon a time – are watered down or forcibly dragged away from being funny because this is a comedy that deep down doesn’t really want to be funny. No, it wants to be the enemy of funny: it wants to be heart-warming.
The alarm bells start a-ringing right from the opening scene, in which we discover that while endearingly scruffy David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a low-level pot dealer with a bunch of steady suburban clients, he’s also a man in his thirties who’s defiantly proud of the fact that he’s managed to avoid having a wife and kids. Where can this movie possibly go from here? Oh, that’s right: in a straight line to a place where he not only has a wife and kids but he loves and appreciates them. Which in a person in the real world is an admirable thing, but is this the real world? No, it’s a movie. A movie that is meant to be funny. But maybe there’ll at least be some funny stops along the way to responsible parenthood, right? Right guys?
David promptly gets his stash ripped off by the kind of knife-wielding teens last seen in an episode of The Equalizer back in 1982, but his cheery corporate drug lord (Ed Helms) makes him a deal: if he goes down to Mexico and brings back an RV with a “smidge and a half” of marijuana inside, he’ll forgive the debt and not put him in the dirt. Having no other choice, David accepts, and after a chance encounter with a gleefully uncool family in an RV (the phrase “real-life Flanders” is used) he figures out that a fake family is the idea cover.
Luckily he has all the ingredients for such a fake family handy: neighbour and stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), neighbour and dorky teen Kenny (Will Poulter), and the most fresh-faced street kid ever, Casey (Emma Roberts). There feels like there’s at least one make-over montage missing from the film at this point, but again, Casey is the most fresh-faced street kid ever – if you were making a perky 80s sitcom about a street kid who gets adopted by a “normal” family, she’d be too cute for it – so forget that, we’re on a plane to fly to an RV to drive across the border, which seems overly complicated but whatever, there’s drugs to be collected. Road trip!
A road trip is one of those comedy ideas that seems like a good idea until you try to remember the last road trip film that was actually funny (National Lampoon’s Vacation?) and think about how many road trip films there have been since then. Remember Identity Thief from earlier this year? No, because it was no good. Remember Due Date, the movie that made both Robert Downey Jr and Zac Galifianakis painfully unfunny at the height of their powers? No, because it was also no good. Is this as bad as those films? Well, neither of them had a spider bite a guy on the balls then show his grotesquely swollen ball sack. Neither of them had an extended riff based on trying to get a straight teenage boy to perform oral sex on a male Mexican motorcycle cop. Neither of them had a final half hour based almost entirely on having everyone learn to work together as a – shudder - family.
Obviously this isn’t a complete waste of time, because some of the cast are moderately funny and there’s some decent chemistry between Sudeikis and Anniston (it’s the fact that their budding relationship is going to come with two increasingly sickly-sweet teenage kids that’s the real buzzkill here). A few of the early scenes raise a smile or two, though if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen all of them, and the arrival of Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as a dorky yet clumsily smutty couple is well-trod comedy turf.
But then it’s time for the most gratuitous yet pointless scene in cinema this year: when a rival drug lord has the family hostage and is about to kill them, he’s suddenly so amazed at the idea that they’re not a real family (clearly this is a drug lord who has no idea how smuggling works) he decides to give Rose the chance to prove she really is a stripper by having her put on a show. Fortunately for today’s impressionable youth who most certainly have not been downloading porn since the age of nine, Rose is one of these fully-clothed strippers that are so popular these days, and her raunchy act never threatens to expose more flesh than you’d see on a beach on a cloudy day. So it’s not titillating, and it’s not funny; sure, why not spend a couple minutes on it?
That’s the big problem here: it never goes far enough to make its ideas funny. Having decided to make a movie about a drug dealer putting together a fake family to smuggle a ton of weed, this then does almost everything it can to remove every single rough edge from the concept. And with it goes the comedy; it may not be as aggressively bad as some of this year’s comedies (*cough* Identity Thief *cough*), but being bland instead is hardly a step in the right direction. There’s a scene at the end where someone puts clips of the road trip’s funniest moments on YouTube; it would have saved us all a lot of time if they’d just done that for real.