Review: 'We're the Millers'

Dark comedies, and the pursuit of evil laughs, have an important role to play in society. From "Heathers" to "The Hangover", seeing our deepest character flaws thrown out on the table, laid bare and played for chuckles, can be a massively cathartic film-viewing experience. The "moral" angle on this method is constantly being played out in our society. As in, does playing "Grand Theft Auto" cause residual real-life violence? Or simply reflect it? My view is that it doesn't cause violence, instead allowing us to expunge the random deviant thoughts we all have in a safe way. For a recent example, consider "Pineapple Express" a movie that puts you into the mind of a slightly off-kilter drug dealer, knowing full well you'd never become one due to it. Yep, escapist dark comedy, when done right, is nothing less than awesome.

Which brings us to "We're the Millers". This is a film that starts as if it were "Grosse Pointe Blank", but soon stumbles and devolves into something more closely approximating "The Brady Bunch". To figure out why this misstep is so frustrating, we must consider the opening premise.

The central character, David (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer who has fallen on hard times. He's strong-armed by his boss, ostensibly a drug kingpin (played with gusto by Ed Helms) into agreeing to smuggle pot across the Mexican border. What could go wrong? Clearly, everything, which is why David opts to enlist the help of an exotic dancer (Jennifer Aniston) and two teens (Will Poulter and Emma Roberts). The hope is that, under the guide of being a family, the border crossing guards will pay the "Miller" clan scant attention. So far as plans, and movie premises go, that's certainly a sturdy enough foundation. One could make a great movie out of that set-up, though sadly "We're the Millers" isn't it.

Now, to be fair, "We're the Millers" has some nice moments. When the film is allowed to indulge its (clearly) darker side, it hums along with brutal efficiency. After all, this is a film about drug smuggling, wherein a drug dealer cons a fake daughter (who is seemingly a homeless runaway) into helping him realize ill-gotten gains. Additionally, the son, it's hinted at, has been abandoned by his mom, left to fend for himself. Plus, Jennifer Aniston's character, Rose, is a born hustler, as one would have to be to survive in the adult entertainment business.This is the stuff dark comedies and/or tragedies are made of, drawing laughs entirely from the premise of flawed individuals doing terrible things and behaving badly. Here is where the successful marrow of the film can be tapped, when no one cares about anyone else, when everyone is trying to get ahead at the expense of all the others. Think "Seinfeld" but with copious amounts of pot. Violence, incredible amounts of bad language, and extremely adult themes will have you laughing out of both surprise and discomfort. Much like "Bad Santa" or "Horrible Bosses" before it, one tunes in for the darkness, which is why it's so disappointing when "We're the Millers" decides it's something else altogether. It decides it's a comedy with heart, and this is the choice that ultimately dooms it from being anything other than average.

Approximately an hour into the film it's revealed that, why, these people who have never spent any real amount of time together (and who are engaged in breaking the law in so many ways) are actually fine and decent human beings! And suddenly the movie begins to deteriorate into a nearly unwatchable glimmer of its former, filthier self. Why the lessons and sermonizing? Why the tonal shift that's almost certain to have people rolling their eyes? If you're a bear in the woods, be a bear in the woods, foraging, attacking, hibernating, and generally being a bear! Do bear stuff, don't all of a sudden attempt to be a kangaroo, because that's just silly talk. Unfortunately, "We're the Millers" doesn't come close to understanding this very simple equation, which is precisely why it's half of a good movie, and another half that no one asked for or wanted.

SCORE: 5.0 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and doesn't have a strong feel for what bears do all day.