Despite being a non-fan of writer/director/actor/comedian, Seth MacFarlane (the “brains” behind such farcical fare as Family Guy and Ted), I still had high hopes for his latest project, A Million Ways to Die in the West. I love westerns and the genre is pretty easy pickins when it comes to laughs, but unfortunately MacFarlane scrapes most his material from the bottom of the comedic bucket.
If you still find bodily fluids (be they human or animal) funny, then you might have a good time at this film; otherwise you’ll probably want to consider avoiding this movie. We’ve seen this same toilet themed trash in dozens of films, most of them much better than this one (which doesn’t take much.)
The hero of the story is Albert Stark (MacFarlane), a nerdy sheep farmer who still lives with his parents in 1882, Old Stump, Arizona. He’s in love with the schoolmarm, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), but she dumps him when he backs out of a gunfight with the local bully.
Before you can say, “quick-draw,” Louise is hooked up with a moustache products salesman, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), and the brokenhearted Albert challenges the slick, mustachioed man to a duel in order to win back his true love.
Enter Anna (Charlize Theron), the wife of the west’s most cold-hearted killer, Clinch (Liam Neeson). She’s holed up in the town waiting for her man to return, but she befriends Albert and tries to teach him how to become a gunfighter. Of course the couple fall in love and Albert must face down both Foy and Clinch in order to win the Anna’s hand.
Nasty wackiness ensues with Albert and Anna prepping for the big gunfight. Meanwhile there is some nice western scenery intermingled with Albert’s friends, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman), having awkward sexual discussions about her job as a prostitute.
The narrative jumps around and relies on boring and unfunny exposition to fill in story gaps, when it bothers at all; but the biggest cinematic sin is that the villains in this farcical tale are flat-out mean spirited. Yes, I know, “villain” is the key word here, but this is supposed to be a comedy, and to be honest the bad guys in Silence of the Lambs are more humorous and entertaining that the poorly written scoundrels in this film.
The sad thing is that MacFarlane and his other writers (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) tease us a few moments of brilliant satire (like showing parental concern for a child’s obsession with the western version of a video game – i.e. rolling a hoop with a stick), but as soon as they run out of ideas (which doesn’t take long) they’re right back to the scatological humor.
I did enjoy Albert’s inaction with the Indians and an inventive drug-induced dream sequence that takes place with them, but the best gag in the film actually steals directly from another movie; and to make matters worse the short scene is featured almost in its entirety in the A Million Ways to Die trailer (another reason not to waste money on this film.)
Seth MacFarlane has sold us a bottle of Snake Oil with this film, which promises to be a modern take on the western comedy, but really just features the oldest and crudest tricks in the book. Disappointment is apparently one of A Million Ways to Die in the West. Grade: 3.5/10
Photos © 2014 Universal Pictures