David Burke (Jason Sudeikis) sells pot to soccer moms and businessmen, but never to kids. He doesn’t appear to be a criminal, exactly, just a little quirky in the way suburbanites tend to be in recent movies and on TV. Just a few minutes into We’re the Millers, David has a chance encounter with a former friend (Thomas Lennon), that reveals to us he’s been doing this since college, when presumably he did sell to kids. Of course, when the friend tells David he envies his freedom — no wife, no kids, no responsibilities — and that in fact he could disappear tomorrow and no one would notice, the not-so-subtle message is that it is time for this pot dealer to find some meaning in his life.
This being a broad Hollywood comedy, the opportunity to do just that presents itself to David almost immediately. When his neighbor, virginal teenager Kenny (Will Poulter), ineptly tries to help runaway teenager Casey (Emma Roberts), who is being harassed by some street thugs, David tries to defuse the situation and ends up getting all his money and drugs stolen. This puts him in debt to his distributor (Ed Helms), who forces him to go to Mexico to smuggle a “smidge” of pot for him.
David needs a plan. After all, he can’t take his scruffy self across the border and expect not to be suspect. So he decides to create a family as a cover. It doesn’t take much convincing to bring Kenny and Casey on board as his children. The last piece of the puzzle is his stripper with a heart of gold neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who agrees to play the wife. Aniston is not even remotely plausible as a hardened stripper who has been dancing for 20 years, but no matter. Luckily for David, Rose has also reached a low point in her life after a boyfriend steals all her money. Also luckily — depending on how you measure such things — the strip club manager informs Rose he’s changing her job description to include prostitution. With that, she’s in.
So, with the family assembled and a monster RV provided out of thin air, David heads off to Mexico for an encounter with some real drug dealers, who load him up with nearly two tons of pot and send him on his way. The four posers quickly settle into their new personas, and like Rose, both David and Casey seem to be more comfortable as the suburbanites that they are pretending to be than the troubled characters we are supposed to believe they were. Kenny doesn’t need to change from his naïve self, though the viewer does wonder how he ended up living in the same neighborhood as the others, let alone the same apartment building.
Such incongruities don’t necessarily distract from the funny moments in We’re the Millers, many provided by Don and Edie Fitzgerald (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn), another family traveling by RV whom the Millers encounter along the way. But like these characters who seem more comfortable being wholesome than raunchy, the movie itself also feels like it wanted to be an edgy PG-13, rather than the timid R it ends up being. With the exception of one bit involving a spider bite that is reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary, the movie never pushes the envelope quite the way movies like The Hangover do so gleefully. The result is that some of the R-rated language and sex talk feels forced and obligatory, more a nod to the requirements of the genre than organic to the movie.
Still, it’s not a bad thing that We’re the Millers shows a little restraint. After all, this is a film about four lost souls finding an unlikely family: it should be a movie where none of the strippers ever take off their bras. There aren’t a lot of surprises in We’re the Millers, but it manages to be diverting nonetheless. It just would have been better, though, if it had been its PG-13 self, and not tried so hard to fit someone else’s expectations.