For eight seasons of Saturday Night Live, the smoothly handsome Jason Sudeikis proved himself a skilled comic actor, excelling at portraying oblivious idiots and slick phonies. But other good-looking, funny guys have failed in starring roles, and Sudeikis has never been entrusted with leading-man responsibilities in a movie before. (We’ll just forget about A Good Old Fashioned Orgy.) So the question going into We’re the Millers is: Can he carry his own film? The answer is: Yes! He probably shouldn’t start writing an Oscar acceptance speech just yet, but he’s well-suited to headline a B-level comedy like this.
He plays David Clark, a small-time loser drug dealer who runs into debt with his supplier (Ed Helms). The supply guy generously offers to cancel David’s debt and pay him a $100,000 bonus if David will travel to Mexico and transport a “smidge” of marijuana across the border in an RV — later on, when David sees how much drugs he’s actually carrying, he characterizes the amount as “enough weed to kill Willie Nelson.” Figuring that a clean-cut, all-American suburban family will attract far less suspicion than a guy driving solo, David recruits his desperate stripper neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston), his dorky teenage neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter), and homeless runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his wife and kids on the trip, bestowing the pseudonym Miller on them all.
Underneath the jokes, this movie is little more than a by-the-numbers farce. You know that David and Rose will start acting like actual parents to the teenagers, that a blanket-wrapped brick of marijuana will be mistaken for a baby, that the straighter-than-straight couple (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) whom the Millers encounter on the road will turn out to have a wild side, and that the girl whom Kenny takes a liking to (Molly Quinn) will walk in on him while his fake sister is teaching him how to kiss.
Yet as predictable as all that is, this movie is funny, and it’s mostly thanks to its actors. Sudeikis’ ad-libbing does much to carry this movie over its rough spots, and he makes a virtuoso 45-second comic aria out of a simple scene of David asking for a haircut. Aniston matches him step for step, getting into the swing of this drug- and profanity-laced comedy and looking damn fine in the inevitable scene where she proves that she’s a stripper. The supporting actors kick in valuable contributions, too: Poulter (the British kid actor from the last Chronicles of Narnia movie) gets a priceless bit where he freestyle raps in the nerdiest white-boy way over TLC’s “Waterfalls.” Offerman and Hahn make a killer couple and raise a lot of laughs in the scene in which they come on to David and Rose. If only more substandard comedies could have performances as sharp as the ones in We’re the Millers, our multiplexes would be happier places.
Starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris. Rated R.