In a summer awash in lackluster action blockbusters and inevitable comedy sequels, “We’re the Millers” is a welcome arrival. A fresh premise, gifted cast and relentlessly abrasive tone make it one of the standout comedies of the year.
Small-time pot dealer David (Kansas City’s Jason Sudeikis) enjoys his life of limited responsibility. No real job. No wife or kids. He can spend a day making phone calls while watching YouTube fail videos.
Things change when his cash and stash are stolen, leaving him massively in debt to former college buddy Brad (Ed Helms), now a feared drug kingpin. Brad offers a solution: David must smuggle a “smidge and a half” of weed back from Mexico.
Every scenario David comes up with seems like a fail video waiting to happen, until an encounter with lost out-of-towners gives him inspiration. He will cross the border in a huge RV as a faux family man. His hard-luck neighbors — career stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), naive dork Kenny (Will Poulter) and street urchin Casey (Emma Roberts) — need some major convincing to join up as his “wife and kids” on the excursion.
“I’m not buying you,” David explains. “I’m renting you.”
What could possibly go wrong?
“We’re the Millers” delivers on the threat of its amusing setup with gags that often veer into the Farrelly brothers mode of pull-no-punches vulgarity. But that’s to be expected with these characters.
Sudeikis’ David is all mouthy attitude, since he’s in a profession where denigrating clients doesn’t harm business. (As fellow “SNL” vet Chris Rock famously quipped, “Drug dealers don’t sell drugs. Drugs sell themselves.”)
Aniston — still exploring the sex kitten phase she instigated in “Horrible Bosses” — portrays Rose as bitter and defensive. And she’s less problematic than Casey, who can barely stomach the idea of pretending to be normal. Much of the early hilarity comes from David attempting to corral his co-conspirators into behaving like a typical family from Middle America.
Eventually, these misfits find a sense of shared belonging that feels less obligatory than you might expect. They become a true nuclear family via an ingenious method of keeping their fake relationship intact.
While the momentum lags slightly in the film’s final act, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (”Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”) keeps the humor flowing at all times from the stars and supporting performers.
The breakout role goes to Poulter (seen in the last “Narnia” sequel) whose freckled face and “Leave It to Beaver” haircut fit right in with his earnest vibe. He’s like a kid from a Norman Rockwell illustration who suddenly becomes a drug mule.
Equally memorable is Mark L. Young as a skate-punk carnival worker Casey skirts around with. Sporting a “no ragrets” chest tattoo (“You have no regrets? Not even a single letter?” David asks), he gives a performance so plausible it’s hard to believe he’s an actor. You’d swear they cast some teen waiting in line at an Insane Clown Posse concert — until the end credits, when a blooper reel shows him improvising one hysterical line after another.
“We’re the Millers” is funny in all kinds of ways. And based on this summer’s crop of comedies, it simply has no competition.