When Jason Sudeikis and Ed Helms appear in the same movie there's a significant threat of clean-cut sameness. Mediocre material makes them like two halves of the same comic actor: Ed Jason Helms-Sudeikis.
This is true even when they are playing different sorts of characters. In the strenuous new comedy "We're the Millers," which sounds a little too close to "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" for comfort, Sudeikis plays David Clark, an easygoing Denver marijuana dealer, the envy of all his pathetic married friends. He lives in the same apartment building as a pristinely hard-bitten stripper, Rose, portrayed by Jennifer Aniston. She receives top billing; she looks nice as a stripper; she continues to take movie roles that very likely make her long for the days of "Friends."
Helms' character tiptoes around the edges of the story as one of the dealer's big clients, who strong-arms Clark into becoming a drug mule. To cross the U.S./Mexico border undetected, the dealer, not wanting to work alone, hires the stripper and two teenagers — wised-up runaway Casey, played by Emma Roberts, and wide-eyed naif Kenny, played by Will Poulter — to pose as a model family of four. They're the Millers, and the pot they're lugging is Mexican cartel pot, which means trouble. This being a 21st-century "action comedy," it also means the usual amount of ill-considered violence that takes away from the funny, rather than adding to it.
It's not a bad setup; it's "2 Guns" retold as a second-rate "National Lampoon's Vacation" sequel. But there's something a little (or a lot) off with nearly everything in "We're the Millers," directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who did "Dodgeball" and the watery indie "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." The crux of the humor depends on the Sudeikis and Aniston characters bickering in a way that spells l-o-v-e, but the screenplay spells it a-g-g-r-a-v-a-t-i-o-n instead. The hoped-for big payoffs of brazen comic effrontery fall eerily flat. One features Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn (no slouches) as a square-seeming vacationing couple who end up in the Millers' tent, for what they think will be a foursie, with Hahn's hands on Aniston's component parts while the men ogle.
The other finds Poulter's virginal teen (the freshest element in the film) receiving make-out lessons from both his fake mother, Aniston, and his fake sister, Roberts. Watching this bit you think: Huh? Wha? Icky? Hot? Skeezy? Not? You're doing everything but laughing. Too often, the same goes for "We're the Millers."
We're the Millers: 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity)
Running time: 1:50
Opens: WednesdayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun