The American dream of a nuclear family nestled safely behind a white picket fence is one that has existed in some form since the days of the Cleaver family. It’s a quaint image of purity that, in true Hollywood fashion, has been poked and prodded onscreen from almost every imaginable angle.

We’re the Millers — a raunchy, sordid, occasionally hilarious and tender-hearted road trip comedy — aims to add one more puncture to that idea of domesticity with the story of a fake family begrudgingly trying to maintain appearances of household bliss in order to smuggle drugs across the border. Yet, for a film that so gleefully takes the American Dream for a crude joyride, the Millers end up strangely (and willfully) tethered to it.

Jason Sudeikis, far from the stage lights of his Saturday Night Live roots, plays David, an aging, smart-aleck, low-level drug dealer who lives a carefree bachelor lifestyle, strolling the Denver nights with a dark hoodie and floppy boy-band hair selling marijuana to soccer moms and other upper-middle-class clientele. But when he becomes indebted to his kingpin supplier (played by an overzealous Ed Helms) for $43,000, he is forced to smuggle a “smidge and a half” (in actuality, a few tons) of marijuana across the Mexican border or suffer the ominous “or else” punishment.

Seeing as how a single man on vacation may raise a few flags at the border, he enlists the help of Rose (Jennifer Aniston), his neighbor/down-on-her-luck stripper; Casey (Emma Roberts), a morose teenage runaway who wanders his block; and Kenny (Will Poulter), an abandoned teddy bear of a boy that lives in his building, to pose as his straight-laced family. Hindered by their disdain for each other but driven by the promise of cold-heart cash, the fake clan loads up in an RV and heads down a route lined with vicious drug lords, a sweet family with a few kinky secrets, an unfortunate encounter with a tarantula, and some not-so-surprising genuine family bonding.

The set-up for We’re the Millers is admittedly intriguing, due in part to its immediate (and welcome) similarities to the infamous travels of the Griswolds from the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise — although it takes on a definite hard-R twist. The interaction between the Millers fosters a peculiar but refreshing mix of painfully awkward moments (“mother” and “daughter” teach “son” how to kiss) and humorous family quips, like David screaming, “I will turn this RV around! No drugs for anyone!” Sadly, the plot doesn’t stop with the promise of a road-trippin’ band of misfits forced to cohabitate. The script, which is penned by no less than four different writers, instead piles on more and ultimately succumbs to a recent trend in Hollywood: comedies that rely on action edge.

No more are the days when comedy was simply about a good joke and a witty comedic talent to deliver it. Now, there is an incessant need to inject the script with an action-packed storyline to fill the time between laughs — a formula that only works occasionally (i.e. this summer’s The Heat and This is The End). Unfortunately for the Millers, being pursued by an international drug cartel and the various chase sequences and gunfights that ensue outweigh the comedy one-liners and improv that aren’t half bad on their own. In fact, the laughs that find the family struggling to smile and bear their hatred for each other — while fighting the urge to actually act like the family they are all deprived of — are hilarious and prove that, as a “family,” the Millers are comedy gold. It’s just the rest of the overdone plot that turns the majority of their trek into a saturated dud of mismatched genres.

As for the Millers themselves, Sudeikis and Aniston (who previously shared the screen in 2011’s Horrible Bosses) establish a witty and surprisingly fluid chemistry as makeshift parents. Sudeikis, in particular, has something to prove with We’re the Millers, having recently announced his departure from SNL. As David, this is his chance to show he can anchor something other than a five-minute sketch. And while his charismatic talent does come through, it is also clear that his ensemble upbringings make his brand of dry sarcasm best suited when he has someone to bounce it off of — making Aniston and her winning comedic timing his perfect better half. Having suffered a rough post-Friends film career, Aniston gets to stretch her legs a bit as the sexy but loving Rose, a stripper who never quite, you know, strips past her lacey underwear. With Rose, and the chance to be a little naughty, Aniston, for the first time in a while, makes a welcome return to the kind of Rachel Green humor and lovable charm that made audiences fall for her initially.

Even with that winning duo at the helm, it is the scene-stealers that make this vulgar road trip worth the price of fuel. Poulter stands out as Kenny, the most sympathetic of the otherwise morally deprived Miller bunch, and recipient of the brunt of the family’s mishaps, including the aforementioned (and sadly-spoiled-in-the-trailers) sight gag involving a tarantula. Yet, in spite of being an easy target, his happy-go-lucky cheer and sincere excitement just to be along for the ride make for a surge of naïve hilarity when juxtaposed to the rest of his family’s sullen attitudes. Plus, his ability to rap TLC’s “Waterfalls” makes for one of the most utterly sidesplitting moments of the year.

Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn also steal the spotlight as Don and Edie Fitzgerald, the heads of an overenthusiastic family and the polar opposites of David and Rose. Be it their repressed sexually adventurous desires or their wholehearted attempts at making friends with the reluctant Millers, Offerman and Hahn make for a winning duo and rival the charm of Sudeikis and Aniston with an unwavering dedication to being pleasantly goofy.

It’s evident that the goal of We’re the Millers was never to entertain with its bland drug world antics, but instead spoil the innocence of the All-American family with as many filthy, depraved and sexual gags as humanly possible. And in that, it succeeds. Only when the film sets its GPS for the forced happy, suburban ending that it so joyfully has been chastising, do the eyebrows and questions begin to raise as to what the ultimate message of We’re the Millers is. Regardless of your interpretation of that question, one thing is clear: apart from the ill-advised action-packed detours, hitting the road with the Miller family is, indeed, a comedic trip worth taking.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4

“We’re the Millers” opened nationwide on August 7, 2013.

Trailer Courtesy of: Warner Bros Pictures.

Featured image: (L-R) Emma Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis and Will Poulter star in “We’re the Millers.” Photo Courtesy of: Warner Bros Pictures.

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