We're The Millers (USA, 2013)
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter
Any kind of comedy has to simultaneously sustain two aspects: the overarching story of the characters, and the jokes that punctuate said story. If either one of these aspects becomes unconvincing or unappealing, it is very hard for the other one to pick up the slack and see us through to the credits. A film can have the funniest jokes in the world, but it's all for nothing if we hate the characters; likewise it can have great characters and a fascinating story, but if the humour isn't well-crafted, then all is lost.
The Red Shoes is not really about ballet, Blade Runner is not really about the future and Gladiator is not really about Rome. Each of these films are enhanced by them deliberarely causing us to second-guess their intentions, and the same principle applies to road movies.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert begins with three drag queens in a bus heading across Australia, but quickly turns into a heartwarming paean to middle age and gender identity. Finding Nemo starts out as a father searching for his son, and then transitions into a story about risk and responsibility. The same principle applies to both arthouse offerings like Kings of the Road and mainstream favourites like Planes, Trains and Automobiles - but sadly, not to We're The Millers.
Animal House. In the hands of someone like John Landis or a younger Harold Ramis, it would have had at least half a chance of working well.
Beverly Hills Cop, I spoke about how director Martin Brest allowed Eddie Murphy to improvise most of his dialogue because he was aware of how poor the script really was. The result was that the plot became convoluted and inconsequential, with both the pace and flow being reduced. After each scene where Axel Foley made something stuff up to cover his tracks, the camera just hung for ages on the other characters, to see if they would say anything funny.
Sightseers, namely expecting us to like thoroughly unlikeable people without much by way of redemption or justification. But where Sightseers was merely incompetent, We're The Millers seems to take delight in human misery as an end or source of humour in itself; it doesn't use pain or suffering to deepen the characters, it simply offers it as a benchmark of modern comedy.
its first sequel, the film also has an uncomfortable sleaziness to it. To a certain extent this is symptomatic of modern blockbusters in general, which Simpson and Bruckheimer had a fair amount of influence in shaping. But the scene where Jennifer Aniston does a striptease for a drug baron is not only unsexy, it's desperately leering. Quite apart from the lazy joke of getting Aniston to do it, its only purpose is base tittilation, right down to its needless nod to Flashdance.
Evil Dead 3 (a.k.a. Army of Darkness) as "the cinematic equivalent of wheelspin", and this film does clearly go in circles until its audience is exhausted. But it does have a couple of saving graces which, while not redeeming it, do make it a more bearable or forgettable experience than Sam Raimi's film.
NEXT REVIEW: Rat Race (2001)