Skip to main content

Congratulations. You just snuck into Mexico.

We’re the Millers
(2013)

Last summer’s surprise hit comedy is more notable for what it doesn’t do than what it does, given its major selling points. It’s a pot comedy in which no one smokes any pot. It also features Jennifer Aniston as a stripper who doesn’t actually strip. And it’s replete with gross out and sex gags but reveals itself to be deeply, deeply conservative in nature. Oh, and most importantly of all it’s a comedy that isn’t terribly funny.


This is one of those laughers that has come together (or fallen apart) through improvisation. Sometimes that works (Anchorman) sometimes it doesn’t (here). Rawson Marshall Thurber had a big hit a decade ago with a comedy that is funny, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but his modus operandi here seems to be that, if he gives his players enough slack, they’ll come up with the goods. Which fails resoundingly.


The premise is sound enough, as one that might eke out a few chuckles, even given the stretch of its drug smuggling backbone; an unlikely quartet pose as a family in order to courier two metric tonnes of weed across the border from Mexico (the stupidest part of this, not that I should really be looking for logic anyway, has a drug dealer who’d for some reason actually believe he’d be paid £100k to smuggle a tiny amount of weed). You’ve got the small time dealer “dad” (Jason Sudeikis), the stripper “mom” (Jennifer Aniston), the virgin “son” (Will Poulter) and the runaway “daughter” (Emma Roberts). 


All easy, obvious hooks on which to hang mirth. And (of course!) through the hijinks that ensue they come to know the meaning and importance of a real nuclear family! Isn’t it adorable! But as it’s R-rated and edgy really, throw in a ball-biting spider (and because it hasn’t been done umpteen times, show the inflamed results too, as that hasn’t been par for the course at all since There’s Something About Mary. The hilarity!) And some jokes about big black cocks (basically an uninspired version of When Harry Met Sally’s loony charades game) and swingers (really? Is this 1975?)


The gang succeeds in their mission to cross the border during the first half of the movie, which means by the second, when they are pursued by a drug lord and encounter a narcotics cop, everyone is going through the motions of trying to keep the ship from sinking. The obsession with quality control-free improv means most of Sudeikis’ lines fall flat. Worse he only ever sounds like he’s making stuff up on the spot; there’s no attempt to maintain character (at one point he breaks the fourth wall, which is actually infinitely preferable to circling the same “daring” routines over and over).


As non-descript a lead as Sudeikis is, and as ineffectual a comedian, he fares better than Ed Helms as his drug dealer boss. Helms is a complete wash out, repeating painfully unfunny from riffs about his pet killer whale and new-found passion for ice sculptures. It’s horrific to see him dying so resoundingly.  Aniston is a good sport, and looks great, but she was frankly funnier and sexier in Horrible Bosses. Both Poulter and Roberts acquit themselves well, and it’s telling that the funniest scene involves the girl Poulter is besotted with walking in on “mom” and “sis” teaching him how to kiss (that’s right, the brand comedians don’t contribute).


Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as fellow RV holidaymakers are also improvising like crazy, but because they maintain character and all-important deadpan they have a better hit ratio than Sudeikis (Hahn has a particularly good line about throwing a hot dog down a hallway). But this movie is the predictable face of current US comedy movies all over. It must feature a toothless cavalcade of affirmative encounters punctuated by as many tiresomely predictable crude, witless or crass gags (speaking of which Luis Guzman is an “any role any time anywhere” guy these days, isn’t he?) If the approach is that any given nob gag will hit the spot, it’s no wonder the result is as a limp as this (there’s even “enough” material for an extended version; I’d hoped those were on the way out).


The only upside to this picture is that if features weed but Seth Rogen doesn’t appear. Maybe because he wasn’t allowed to get off his tits. Sudeikis does his best to be as nearly as charmless a lead. I haven’t minded him elsewhere (although, come to think of it, I’m only really conscious of him from Horrible Bosses). If this is a Chevy Chase Vacation movie in all but name, and without Chase, it bodes horribly for Sudeikis assuming the mantle of Fletch in the upcoming Fletch Won. This is exactly the type of movie that becomes a big hit out of nowhere and then no one can remember how or why they saw it, or even if they saw it, a year later. A much more likeable movie (nothing great, but likeable, which is a key distinction) about a fake family came out a few years back called The Joneses. Somehow that one managed to pull off the trick of bringing them all together at the end without making the viewer feel physically ill. 


**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…