Review: What the Hell Is Going on in 'We're the Millers'?

Aug 06, 2013 | 3:50pm EDT

Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Every once in a while during the 110-minute screwball comedy We're the Millers, you'll get the feeling that one of the four screenwriters stood up, grabbed hold of their shared laptop, and shouted, "Okay, my turn!" veering off in an entirely different direction with the plotline in tow. This year's answer to the Horrible Bosses of summers past doesn't exactly have the patience to be, in the most official definition of the word, a story, capping each of its 14 mini-acts in explosive conclusions that lead, abruptly, to new scenes built on madcap, quasi-humorous non sequiturs.

The ostensible synopsis follows drug dealer David (Jason Sudeikis) as he wrangles a fake family to transport a ton — quite literally — of marijuana over the Mexican/American border to square off with a Denver-based super criminal. Sounds like it could be a movie, right? Travails through the Mexican desert? Squabbles with the immigration officers? Anxiety over making it safely back into the States? Well, don't get invested in any of that — the border-cross goes off without a hitch approximately 20 minutes into the movie, leaving the rest of our time with the Millers (that's their false surname) to be spent embedded in quarrels, fight scenes, spider-bites, and some outlandish sexual misconduct.

David's false family is made up of a team of outcasts — an embittered stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a dopey, good-natured 18-year-old whose mother ran out on him (Will Poulter), and an acerbic runaway who lives on the streets (Emma Roberts). Interesting characters the lot of them, all worthy of the film's attention...though never quite awarded it.

Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Yes, we get a romantic arc brewing between Dave and Rose (Aniston), as anyone who read as far as the cast list for this movie might expect. We even get a turn of romance for young Kenny (Poulter), who earns a boost in self-esteem thanks to dad Dave and sister Casey (Roberts). But what about Casey herself? The rebellious teen whose home life was bad enough to result in her running away and living on the street? On paper, she's the most interesting character in the film. But we see Roberts contributing little more than a vehicle for Kenny's sexual maturation, a few R-rated gags, and your standard plot-forwarding exposition.

And why? Probably because she's a 20-year-old girl, which translates in Hollywood terms to set dressing and the occasional kiss. Aniston isn't dealt much better a hand, playing a stripper who, of course, is forced to strip. Several times throughout the movie. Hey, that's showbiz!

A few laughs do permeate through — Sudeikis, inscrutably becoming a less likable character as the film goes on (an interesting choice, if it is indeed a choice), manages some one-liners of note; Poulter is more over charming as the good-natured Kenny; cameos by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn will appease all fans of the usual Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn routine. And if you're into pop culture references, there's one every minute. So it's not so much a deficit of jokes that'll drag you down to disappointment with We're the Millers. It's the conniving feeling of puzzlement that comes with every quick twist of events, every cataclysmic explosion of a scene, every convoluted thoroughfare from one unfounded bit of nonsense to another that'll getcha. It isn't that We're the Millers isn't funny. It just doesn't make any sense.

Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow on Twitter @hollywood_com

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