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Wednesday, August 14,2013

Reefer blandness

Jennifer Aniston tries to save a buzz-less raunchy comedy

by ALLAN I. ROSS
Some comedies demand repeat viewings to allow your brain to wrap around the complexity or the subtlety of the humor, or to soak in a boldly original acting performance. Admittedly, I was no fan of “The Big Lebowski,” “Best in Show” or “Zoolander” the first time I saw them, but I now rank them among my favorites. That esteem, however, only came from subsequent sit-downs; a single watch just isn’t enough to “get” certain films. That’s why I’m so wary to dismiss a comedy too quickly. 

That said, “We’re the Millers” is a turd sandwich. I laughed good-naturedly at a few of the funnier bits, groaned at a couple of the gross-outs and ogled Jennifer Aniston’s killer body as she performed an eye-popping striptease in a teeny lace bra and panties. But I felt deeply ashamed of my emotional investment immediately afterward. 

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”), “Millers” borrows liberally from the playbooks of the Farrelly Brothers (disfigured prosthetic genitalia: check), Judd Apatow (male-centric raunchy comedy that feels at least half an hour too long: check) and Adam McKay (improvisational style that has five unfunny jokes to every funny one: check). This is a recipe with ingredients we’ve seen dozens of times before: take one unlikable, bickering couple who you know will hook up at the end, put them on a road trip with a couple of offbeat characters and bounce them off a contrarily wholesome family for whom they must maintain a growing pack of lies. Throw in a couple of gun-toting villains who are in hot pursuit, let fester in the desert sun for two days and serve lukewarm; garnish with a sprig of marijuana. 

“Millers" is about a misfit assembly pretending to be a family in order to smuggle pot across the Mexican border in a rented RV. Unlike darker, funnier, better movies that dabble with drugs and illegal activity — a glorious tradition that started with “Up in Smoke” continuing through “Pineapple Express” — “Millers” is a toothless cop-out. In a comedy featuring a van filled with 2 tons of weed, not once does a character so much as refer to getting stoned; God forbid someone should, you know, smoke it. 

There are some high points. Nick Offerman, most recently seen in “Kings of Summer,” turns in a standout performance as a vanilla DEA agent, and newcomer Will Poulter pulls off the sincerity required of the hackneyed virginal teen role. However, in his first shot at a headlining role, Jason Sudekis proves he’s no born leading man. He instilled a sparkling, post-ironic wit into his “Saturday Night Live” personas, and his supporting roles in “The Campaign” and “Horrible Bosses” were fine examples of being a great utility player. But it takes a hell of a charismatic actor to act like a dick for the entire movie, then get you to like him when he learns his lesson at the end. Sudekis is too lightweight to pull it off. 

Then you’ve got Aniston As A Stripper. That’s pretty much as far as the writer, Bob Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”), got with figuring her character out, but she makes the best of it. She’s charming, as always, but a recycled “Friends” plot point and a shout- out to the show in the end credits remind you how little she’s come since the show ended nine years ago. 

But mostly, as America sits on the verge of pot legalization (or at least decriminalization), marijuana smuggling already seems pass', if not altogether quaint. “We’re the Millers” won’t get better with time; it’s already nearly obsolete.

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