A triumph of bad taste and good casting, the very funny road comedy Were the Millers benefits from Jason Sudeikis sleaze and Jennifer Anistons lack thereof.
Saturday Night Live veteran Sudeikis shines when he works against his wholesome handsomeness. In Millers, he brings the same mean-frat-guy gleam to his eye that he brought to the recurring SNL sketch that paired him with Kristen Wiig as an insufferable couple.
In Millers, Sudeikis is completely believable as cynical, flinty, small-time pot dealer David, who recruits a stripper (Aniston), a runaway (Emma Roberts) and a neglected teen (Will Poulter) to pose as his family for a drug run to Mexico.
When thieves steal his stash and his cash, Davids drug supplier (Ed Helms) suggests David erase his debt and earn extra money on top of it by traveling to Mexico to bring back a shipment of pot. David figures he will have a better chance of getting past border authorities if he pretends to be a family man on an RV vacation.
David and his stripper neighbor, Rose, are not pals at the films start. They live in an older Denver apartment building, but it could be a glass house considering how they throw stones at each others occupations. Rose agrees to the Mexico trip because David has offered her cash, which she needs because her live-in boyfriend has split.
Casting Aniston as a stripper heightens the movies already high-concept story. Aniston is a hard sell as an exotic dancer, and comes across as self-conscious and too clothed in her stripping scenes. Diane Keaton shows more skin on screen.
The R-rated parts of Millers do not involve stripping. At least not by Aniston.
But Anistons uptight quality enhances other scenes in Millers. Nothing naughty about Aniston comes across in this film or any other when she tries to express it overtly; it must sneak up on audiences to make an impact. Putting Aniston in khaki capris and Keds, in her guise as suburban mom Rose Miller, allows this to happen.
Aniston is naturally soccer-mom-like, so when her stripper characters free-wheeling sensibilities invade her Mrs. Miller guise, comedy ensues.
Aniston, like Sudeikis, also knows how to sell a comic line that otherwise would thud. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball), Millers is credited to six writers, so the movies lets-throw-everything-up-there-to-see-what-sticks approach is no surprise. Probably a quarter of it does not stick. But it likely would have been half without Sudeikis and Anistons well-honed comic timing.
Millers also contains a cant-miss comic element in young British actor Poulter, who gives Kenny, the Millers fake son, a stunning lack of guile. Emanating innocence, the freckled, wide-eyed Poulter steals scenes because hes the only sincere person in the fake Miller clan. (Kennys on board the RV just because he wanted to help his neighbor David).
Poulters also clearly down for any comic situation, no matter how outlandish or injurious to his characters dignity.
Thurbers direction happily lacks urgency, despite the Millers deadline to bring the drugs back. Millers lets us just enjoy the journey of this feral pack of misanthropes masquerading as a domestic unit, without worrying about the destination.
The majority of laughs come from the Millers interaction with the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn), an overly friendly pair of fellow RVers who hang on the Millers the way Cousin Eddie and crew clung to the Griswolds in the Vacation movies.
Offerman alters his deadpan Ron Swanson delivery from NBCs Parks & Recreation, giving his character a jeans-shorts joviality. Hahn, who played a put-together, high-powered political consultant on Parks, here wipes away all memories of her attractiveness, playing a matronly woman who forces you to think of her sexually when you dont want to.
Kenny meets his inexperienced match in the Fitzgeralds daughter, Melissa (Molly Quinn). Poulters and Quinns scene crackles with earnestness and profound virginity.
Roberts seems streetwise enough as the runaway posing as a Miller but fails to make much of an impression beyond that.
Helms brings his patented hail-fellow oddball quality from The Office to his role as a drug supplier. His appearance here proves, conclusively, that he and Sudeikis are not the same person. You know the difference because they appear in the same frame, and because Sudeikis convinces as a criminal and Helms does not.
WERE THE MILLERS
* * *
Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts
Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rated R (crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity)
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.