Aug. 07--Comedy. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. (R. 110 minutes.)
Comedies are getting more and more vulgar, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Fifteen years ago, just about every comedy was rated PG-13, and anything to do with families ended on some fake sentimental uplift straight out of an old TV sitcom. New comedies are a relief from that, but when they're vulgar for the sake of vulgar, that's just another form of dishonesty,
"We're the Millers" is right down the middle, sometimes crude to be crude, sometimes finding humor in the crude world we live in. Sometimes it's labored, sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it feels like four people worked on the screenplay and not one of them loved it, and sometimes it sneaks up and finds a laugh or two.
Get past the comedy and there's something almost weird at the movie's core -- a deep cynicism about family and a longing for family, both at the same time. But the screenplay is too much of a patchwork to express anything deep or unconscious.
Still, the setup has something: Jason Sudeikis is David, a small-time drug dealer who is forced to go to Mexico to pick up several tons of marijuana and drive it across the border. Because a lone, scruffy guy crossing the border is more likely to get stopped than a wholesome American family, he recruits a stripper (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his wife and hires a runaway (Emma Roberts) and a neighbor (Will Poulter) to impersonate their kids for the drug run.
That adventure and its aftermath make up "We're the Millers," and along the way, we find the usual personality clashes and gunplay -- yes, gunplay; it's a comedy about drug smuggling, after all. A big weakness of the movie is that its characters are constantly doing things against their own interests. Comedies don't need to be believable, but they do need to be logical.
Just one example of many: At one point, with enough drugs in their RV to send them up the river for decades, Rose (Aniston) and David decide to rob a DEA officer. Why would they do something so incredibly insane? Because, as it turns out, there's a comic bit at the end of that chain that someone wanted to cram in. It's that kind of thing, again and again: Awkwardness, character distortion and strain, followed by almost enough laughs to be worth it.
Playing a stripper is outside Aniston's usual zone, allowing her to be a little more coarse than usual. That's fine, and she makes the most of it, though the stripping scenes aren't flattering. It's not that she doesn't look good -- actually, she looks great -- but there's an age at which silly and flamboyant display makes emotional and aesthetic sense, and whatever that age is, it's really, really young. However, on her resume, Aniston can now check off pole dancing.
As befitting a movie written by a committee, "We're the Millers" is too long, with everyone's bits included. But the cast carries it a long way. Sudeikis is appealing, if a little too nasty at times, though that's partly the role. The young actors, Roberts and Poulter, are comically skilled. And Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman are fairly funny to the extent they get a chance to be.
All these mild virtues don't quite add up to a recommendation, but if you said you wanted to see "We're the Millers," I wouldn't block the door.
Mick LaSalle is the San Francisco Chronicle's movie critic. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MickLaSalle
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