millersWe’re The Millers is an odd beast. It’s quite a rarity, in actual fact. As I type, there’s probably a lab full of Judd Apatow wannabes dissecting it to its very bones to understand how it ticks. Because the most interesting thing about it is that somehow it manages to be far better than anyone could rationally expect it to be, and yet simultaneously it’s still a bitter disappointment. The clues, though, were always there. They were there at the start. They were scattered throughout. They were there at the end. It was always going to be so.

The first clue is right there in the lobby of the movie theatre, before you even buy the ticket. At the top of the billing we have a certain Jennifer Aniston. I’m all for a female having a top billing in a comedy, but The One That Had The Hair That Somehow Made Her Really Popular Twenty Years Ago from Friends has a dismal track record when it comes to picking the vehicles to display her talents. Her back catalogue from 2004 is a litany of excruciating romantic comedies with a formula that, God bless her, she stuck to until 2011’s Horrible Bosses where she abandoned the girl-next-door persona in favour of a more edgy, unlikable image. Neither really work.

The second clue is the premise of the movie. An episode of South Park once suggested that the gags in Family Guy were actually generated by a tank of manatees who selected five random elements from a bunch of idea balls that would be turned into a joke. For example, Laundry, Date, Winning, Mexico, Gary Coleman combine to inspire a Peter Griffin memory of neglecting to do the laundry but then winning a date to Mexico with Gary Coleman. I suspect the creative masterminds behind We’re The Millers were equally aquatic: Jennifer Aniston, Stripper, Drug Mule, RV, Mexico.

These five randomly selected elements were generated into the following synopsis. David (Jason Sudekis) is a small time, nickel-bag drug dealer. When he and his young, simpleton neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) attempt to prevent the mugging of a young girl called Casey (Emma Roberts), it’s David himself who loses out, robbed of tens of thousands of dollars and a big ole bunch of weed. David’s supplier (Ed Helms off of Hangover, Hangover Part II, Hangover Part III) is understandably pissed off by this and instructs David to pick up some marijuana from Mexico and smuggle it back into the US to pay off his debt. Deciding that the best way to do this is by posing as a family on vacation in a massive RV, he enlists stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold-sorta, Rose (Aniston), to be his pretend wife with Kenny and Casey posing as his kids. The audience probably figures out that the Mexican weed doesn’t actually belong to Ed Helms and in fact is the property of a Mexican drug baron long before the scriptwriters did. Somewhere along the way, hilarity was meant to ensue but kinda got sidetracked by every Mexican character either being a part of a drug cartel, horribly impoverished, or a corrupt cop.

Clue number three. The movie is basically National Lampoon’s Vacation meets Scarface meets that episode of Frasier where they accidentally take an RV into Canada.

It’s not entirely without a few chuckles — I smiled a couple of times, mostly on the inside — and Will Poulter in particular is something of a breath of fresh air, and the weirdo Fitzgerald family in another RV on the same road provide a few funny moments and are hugely more interesting as a family unit than the Millers. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to take that much from it. But at the heart of the movie’s problems is the fact that we have largely unlikeable characters smuggling drugs into the US and we’re supposed to be sympathetic with their cause.

Clue number four comes at the end. When all is said and done and the funniest things in the movie are three shots of a swollen testicle, and the Friends theme tune on the blooper reel — and oh, jeez … a blooper reel? Seriously? — you know the bar was never set that high to begin with.

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