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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: We’re the Millers

WE’RE THE MILLERS (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2013



Back in the 1990s, during the TV heyday of “Friends,” the sight of Jennifer Aniston doing a strip tease on camera in some other movie would have probably been enough to set off fantasies and cultural shock waves of super-seismic proportions. What a disgrace? What a babe! What a bod! What moral decay! What heavenly hair! What an angelic…!

Sad to say, when the big strip tease number with Aniston comes in her new movie We’re the Millers, it’s a disappointment, a bust—and not the kind you expect either. The disrobing of the legendary Rachel isn’t the epic sex fantasy scene one might imagine, but just another misjudged scene in a somewhat daring but basically lousy movie comedy—a forced, crude, often senseless show about a group of misfits or outsiders (played by Aniston, Jason SudeikisEmma Roberts and Will Poulter), pretending to be a typical American suburban bourgeois family (called the Millers), while smuggling dope across the border from Mexico,

I hasten to add that none of the blame for this disappointing strip is Ms. Aniston’s, and that she’s totally game and still looks great, in clothes or out of them. The take-‘em-off number—in which Aniston, as professional stripper Rosie O’Reilly, is trying to distract and discombobulate the vicious drug traffickers who supplied the two tons of marijuana now secreted in the Miller‘s RV—is too fast, not imaginative, not funny, and not sexy enough.

The rhythm is off in the strip, as it is for much of the movie. During the course of this would-be dirty-funny movie Jennifer graces us with not just one but several strip-tease numbers; indeed one of the major points of Rosie as a character seems to be to get Jennifer out of her clothes, or at least some of them—shimmying against a dance-pole in a platinum wig in one scene or beguiling those drug distributors by peeling off her Capri pants, in the number they probably show in the trailer. But these scenes, like much else in the movie—except for the sequences with Nick Offerman as a benevolent D.E.A agent and Kathryn Hahn as his homespun but hot-to-trot wife—are too obvious and too forced, lacking in wit and imagination, and even a little sloppy. This movie‘s idea of a funny, audacious gag is to have one character pull down his pants to show us his scrotum, blown up to cantaloupe size after he’s bitten by a scorpion.

The premise—for which we should thank (or not) a team of writers—is second- or third-rate pseudo-Farrelly stuff. Sudeikis, in a full attack of smarminess that suggests he wants to follow (or fall) in Chevy Chase‘s footsteps, plays David Clark, an affable, shaggy, glib dope dealer who loses all his ganja-gotten gains one night while coming to the aid of a young neighbor (Poulter as super-doofus Kenny Rossmore) who’s being threatened by some low-lifes. Stripped of both his dough and his pot by the delinquents, David later tries to square things with his supplier and ex-college buddy Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who actually out-smarms Sudeikis), Gurdlinger, who actually claims to be the drug kingpin, offers his old pal an option: smuggle that couple of tons of pot in from Mexico in the R. V., while pretending to be a solid, clean-cut citizen named, of course, Miller.

Convinced he can’t be believably straight enough without a “family,” David hastily recruits three other Millers: Aniston‘s hard-bitten ecdysiast Rosie as the mama, Poulter’s somewhat neurotic and virginal Kenny as the son, and Roberts’ runaway street kid Casey Mathis as the daughter. This foursome, initially not too simpatico with each other, turn out better at being bourgeois than you’d first guess and things go sort of swimmingly, until a nasty plot twist gets unloaded at the hacienda of drug czar Pablo Chacon (Tomer Sisley) and his number one thug, the genuinely scary-looking One Eye (Matthew Willig). Soon, The Millers, or “The Millers,” hook up with D. E. A. guy Fitzgerald (Offerman) and his spouse (Hahn) and his daughter (Molly Quinn) on the way, will learn much more the perils of driving an RV full of marijuana, as guns and chases and phony incest gags and scrotum jokes abound.

A few questions emerge from all this cannabis-laced mountebankery and mayhem. Why would any self-respecting pot trafficker, even as devious a miscreant as Gurdlinger, conceive such an idiotic scheme (the two tons of pot aren’t paid for), a plan that seems more than likely to fail completely and get them all killed, himself included? Why does David entrust his life and future to the dubious hands of a stripper who dislikes him, a troubled kid and a homeless runaway. Why do David and Rosie get into a sexually compromising situation with a D. E. A. agent and his wife—and let the kids make out by a window while the agent’s daughter is prowling around? Of course, it can be argued that movie comedies are full of characters that behave stupidly, put themselves in compromising positions and into mortal danger, and somehow evade arrest or death. But there’s an art to setting up these situations so they seem somehow plausible, and that art is almost lacking in We’re the Millers.

The notions or morals behind the movie, as written by the tag-team and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (director of the Ben StillerVince Vaughn sports farce Dodgeball and the arty The Mysteries of Pittsburgh) seem to be many and contradictory is that these phony Millers have a greater aptitude for “normality” and straightness than we thought, that the actor playing the D. E. A. agent in a dope comedy, will probably steal the movie (unless it’s a show by Cheech and Chong), that sex and pot both scramble your mind, and any plot device, however imbecilic, will be accepted by an audience hungry for entertainment, or pot, or sex, or all three and that movies about pot should be legalized for their medicinal value, especially in complaints involving the scrotum. Also, that if you hire Jennifer Aniston for a role that requires her to strip-tease, you should let her tease as well as strip. Slower, slower…

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon