Tag Archives: C

WE’RE THE MILLERS

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C

Think “National Lampoon’s Vacation” retooled for the “Hangover” generation and you’ll have a good idea of what “We’re the Millers” is like. Like the Chevy Chase perennial, it’s a catastrophe-filled family road movie, but in this case the family is fake, the trip is a drug-smuggling journey and the script is crammed with the sort of gross-out gags, sexual humor and rough language that would have made John Hughes queasy. Though incessantly raunchy and crude, the movie is intermittently funny. Too often, though, it just spins its wheels or drives into a ditch, figuratively speaking.

The sparkplug of the venture is David Clark (Jason Sudeikis), a low-level marijuana dealer with an endless stream of snarky one-liners. When thugs steal the cash he owes to his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), his only chance to save his skin is to agree to transport a shipment of weed across the Mexican border. The scheme he cooks up to avoid detection is to play a nerdy dad driving his vacationing brood to Mexico in an RV and concealing the cargo in it for the return trip. And so he persuades Rose O’Reilly (Jennifer Anison), a cash-strapped stripper who lives down the hall of his ratty apartment building, to play his wife. For kids he adds dweeb-next-door Kenny (Will Poulter) and hard-as-nails runaway Casey (Emma Roberts). Looking as whitebread and unthreatening as can be, they’ll easily pass by the border crossing without so much as a glance from the guards.

Problems begin almost immediately after they acquire the huge shipment from a one-eyed giant (Matthew Willig), when they’re accosted by a portly cop (Luis Guzman) demanding a bribe payable either in cash or sexual favors. And at the border itself they arouse suspicion anyway, after a conversation with doofus couple Don and Edie Fitzgerald (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn), who are also in an RV. But they get back into the US, only to have their vehicle break down, bringing Don, Edie and their daughter Melissa (Molly Quinn) to the rescue. That introduces a long digression with lots of crass sexual overtones involving David, Rose, Don and Edie as a clumsily “swinging” foursome and Kenny and Melissa in a puppy-dog romance. Like them, a bit about Rose’s supposed baby is ill-conceived and ends with a thud.

That’s just the beginning. The family is soon being pursued by One-Eye and his cartel boss (Tomer Sisley), which at one point leads Rose to do a strip routine for the villains—a sequence that’s more unseemly than funny. But it’s certainly topped by a grotesquely protracted—and extraordinarily graphic—sequence in which Kenny is bitten by a tarantula in a most inconvenient anatomical location. There’s also a revelation about Don that plays into a big finale.

Of course, the smuggling plot isn’t enough. The script also has to play what has become the almost obligatory card in movies nowadays—the “what makes a family” theme. As David, Rose, Kenny and Casey continue their odyssey, they bond, growing protective of one another over the course of their misadventures. By the close they’ve inevitably transformed into a real family, linked not by blood but by love. As if anyone couldn’t see that coming!

To be fair, “We’re the Millers” does give Sudeikis a chance to showcase a talent for playing a shifty but lovable cad who tosses off put-downs with the quickness of a stand-up comedian. And Anison is as always an agreeable presence, even though the striptease stuff has more than a whiff of exploitation to it. Roberts is fine without doing anything special, but Offerman can’t make much of his dull role, and Hahn balances his underplaying by going to extremes; Helms, meanwhile, is surprisingly unfunny—though predictably broad—as Clark’s drug impresario. The one true shining light of the movie is Poulter, whose performance as big-hearted, naïve Kenny is its most enjoyable element. It’s a pity he has to go through that spider business.

Technically proficient without being outstanding, “We’re the Millers” represents the current state of Hollywood comedy to perfection. It aims for the funnybone but more often hits the crotch. If that’s to your taste, you may find it hilarious. If not, it’s a trip you won’t want to take.

SMURFS 2, THE

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C

Daddy issues abound—among both humans and smurfs—in Raja Gosnell’s inevitable sequel to his 2011 hit about those cuddly little blue folk that the Belgian artist Peyo created more than half a century ago. “The Smurfs 2” is aimed solidly at the youngest of viewers, and its bright colors and harmlessly slapstick action will probably appeal to them. But anyone over the age of ten or so will find the movie inoffensive but insufferably bland.

The screenplay, credited to no fewer than five writers, follows the template of its predecessor closely by having several of the smurfs, led by Papa Smurf (voiced genially by Jonathan Winters in his last film role), venture into the “real” world on a mission to deal with the machinations of villainous wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria, in full-bore evil genius mode). The reason behind this new adventure is that Gargamel has kidnapped Smurfette (Katy Perry), the girly smurf-like entity he created to infiltrate and betray Smurfland, but who defected and was turned into a fully good-natured smurf by Papa. Gargamel intends to compel her somehow to reveal a secret formula that will allow him to turn the new but gray smurflike critters he’s fashioned—Nasties Vexy (Christina Ricci) and Hackus (J.B. Smoove)—into full smurfs. His intent is then to drain all three, and the rest of the smurfs, of their magical essence, which he will then transfer to his wand in order to give him the power to conquer the world. In the meantime he’s enjoying a career as a celebrated magician, enthralling Parisian audiences while completing his malevolent plot with the help of his cat Azrael (Frank Welker).

This scenario is soon cast as a family story, with Gargamel, assisted by Vexy and Hackus, trying to convince Smurfette that they’re her real family, rather than the smurfs (who she believes forgot her birthday, though in reality they were preparing a huge surprise party for her). Meanwhile Papa and his crew—Grouchy (George Lopez), Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) and Vanity (John Oliver)—contact their old human pals Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays). They’re now parents to a sweet boy named Blue (Jacob Tremblay), and Patrick is struggling with the demands of fatherhood while determinedly resisting the attempts of his stepfather Victor (Brendan Gleeson) to build an emotional bond. The family immediately agree to help—though Patrick would prefer Victor to stay out of it—and are off to Paris.

It would be a tedious chore to detail all the episodes that follow, which include Victor being transformed into a duck for a time. Young children will probably enjoy the Saturday morning cartoon-quality feel of it all, and everything turns out with typical smurf sweetness, even Vexy and Hackus earning their blue pigmentation and entry to Smurfland. And there are some modest pleasures along the way for older folk: Gleeson exhibits considerable comic skill, Oliver delivers a few amusing throwaway barbs, and Azrael’s hissy put-downs of Gargamel have some fizz. Azaria certainly delivers too, although there’s rather too much of him here—a bit less footage of his scenery-chewing wouldn’t be amiss (at slightly over a hundred minutes, the movie does outstay its welcome). By contrast Harris is given surprisingly short shrift, and the predictable resolution of his estrangement from Victor is simple-minded, even for a movie aimed at the kiddies; Mays has even less to do (an Audrey Hepburn imitation apart), and the habit of having Tremblay shout out the obvious at the close of virtually every sequence becomes a tired device. On the other hand, the relatively short bang-‘em-up finale is a blessing, although an earlier sequence involving a giant illuminated merry-go-round that’s detached from its moorings and goes spinning through the streets of Paris is a mirthless mistake. (Given that “1941” featured a similar scene, runaway merry-go-rounds may be a comedic kiss of death.)

Otherwise “The Smurfs 2” is more than competently put together, with some nice shots of Parisian landmarks courtesy of cinematographer Phil Meheux and solid effects work that melds the animation and live action pretty well (apart from a few scenes in which the smurfs look inanimate indeed when they’re being handled by humans in long shots).

But while it will do as a cinematic babysitter, it’s not much more than that.