The most crucial aspect needed for a road comedy to succeed is chemistry between the travelers. In the case of We’re the Millers, the RV contains four characters who need to mesh - the ring leader, David, a drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis); Rose the stripper evicted from her apartment (Jennifer Aniston); Kenny the dorky kid who idolizes David (Will Poulter); and Casey the runaway (Emma Roberts). The two biggest named stars - Aniston and Sudeikis - have the most responsibility to make sure this happens. They hate each and then they fall in love is the cliche and We’re the Millers doesn’t do much to dissuade the audience that that is where the movie is going. To begin with they hate each other, Rose only agreeing to go along with David because her situation, like his, is desperate. They bicker. Things go bad. Slowly their relationship thaws. David tells the story of how they met to fellow campers - Edie (Kathryn Hahn), Don (Nick Offerman), and Melissa (Molly C. Quinn). Then a twinkle of understanding and compassion for each other’s situation. But by the time they get to an aborted kiss you can tell they’re just not clicking. By the end of the movie I was praying the filmmakers would have the nerve to simply not go there, given how poorly the two coalesced. It’s not like anyone was expecting too much from this film, so it’s not the worst thing to stick to a formula. But the formula for this cliche requires chemistry and it just wasn’t there.
Sudeikis and Aniston are fun actors in the right roles. One of those roles is not lead in a summer comedy. Sudeikis is funny as a low-key drug dealer, clever and sarcastic. That’s not where We’re the Millers is trying to make its money though. When the “family” takes to the road the filmmakers attempt to escalate the comedy beyond snappy dialog and into more crazy situations. In general this doesn’t lead to a better movie in the first place so this is not Sudeikis’ fault. Faced with this situation as the lead, Sudeikis seems to strain to reach the more outlandish tenor of the movie.
Aniston too is funny in the right spot. Early on she is good as the elder sensible dancer at the strip club. Even as David’s neighbor Rose has some stingingly good put downs. When on the road though she seems stiff. In fact her best contributions are when she’s pretending to be a traditional mother in a nuclear family.
Roberts as the petulant daughter and Poulter as the dorky son contrast well but I don’t remember much from their interactions other than Casey teaching Kenny how to kiss, and then Rose joining in as the filmmakers play a funny trick on your sense of decency.
Finally, Ed Helms starts off as drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger, but ultimately it’s another drug dealer - Tomer Sisley as Pablo Chacon, along with thug-character actor Matthew Willig - who ends up chasing them. Gurdlinger is funny because he’s a lively businessman with a killer whale in a huge aquarium in his office. He smiles when he’s acting like your friend and he smiles when he threatens to kill you if you don’t smuggle drugs across the border. With Chacon the filmmakers play it straight. He’s a bad guy. It’s a good plot twist, but unfortunately Chacon isn’t really that scary. They should have just stuck with Helms.