Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West
PLOT: A cowardly sheep farmer (Seth MacFarlane) recently dumped by his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) can’t believe his luck when he’s befriended by a gorgeous sharp-shooter (Charlize Theron). Little does he know, her husband (Liam Neeson) is a notorious killer bent on killing his wife’s new man.
REVIEW: It can’t be denied that Seth MacFarlane’s humor isn’t for everyone. However, with FAMILY GUY still going strong in the ratings, and his previous film – TED – having raked in hundreds of millions (with a sequel on the way) it can’t be denied the guy has a huge fan base. Having mostly enjoyed TED, I’d consider myself one of them, but if that was the cinematic equivalent of FAMILY GUY, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST feels more like the spawn of one of its less successful follow-ups, like AMERICAN DAD or THE CLEVELAND SHOW. There are occasional belly laughs, but they are few and far between.
Oddly, despite its raunch and R-rating, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST has less in common with the great BLAZING SADDLES (which is so good the very idea of making a western comedy after it seems idiotic) and more with the antiquated, quaint humor of something like CAT BALLOU or the Bob Hope comedy THE PALEFACE (to which this actually has a lot of similarities). At its worst, it’s like one of those bad post-BLAZING SADDLES rip-offs, like THE DUCHESS & THE DIRTWATER FOX or – even worse – the BLAZING SADDLES tv adaptation, BLACK BART. Suffice to say, MacFarlane probably made exactly the kind of film he wanted, but whether or not anyone else will find it funny is very much in doubt.
It doesn’t help that MacFarlane has cast himself in the lead. As a voice-actor, he’s aces, but as a straight-up actor, he’s not able to carry a movie. Watching him here is like watching him host the Oscars. He seems way too impressed with himself, especially when he goes off on tangents and seems to be laughing at his own jokes. Heck, the first time he walks (or runs) into the movie it almost looks like he’s expecting applause. This is really the Bob Hope school of acting, and even all the R-rated gags and toilet humor can’t save this from feeling antiquated.
What’s weird is that MacFarlane barely gives anyone else a chance to be funny, with everyone, especially Theron and Liam Neeson playing it absolutely straight. The film occasionally breaks into oddly placed scenes of graphic violence, with heads being caved in, and an old man being gruesomely executed by Neeson – who’s so mean here he even points a gun at a dog! The mixture of almost Sam Peckinpah levels of violence (with a people getting their jugulars slit open and worse) to goofy musical numbers about moustaches is occasionally jarring.
The only other folks in the movie who get to occasionally be funny are Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi, as a Christian couple saving themselves for marriage, despite the fact that she’s the town prostitute. This gag is pretty funny at the start, but it goes on and on (and on).
A lot of the trouble comes from the fact that MacFarlane is not able to really indulge in the pop-culture driven humor that’s become his stock-in-trade. By being a western, he’s not able to joke about movies or TV, and it’s worth noting that the only two gags that really work are cameos where two actors from well-known westerns reprise their characters for a few seconds. This is obviously an attempt to stretch, but it doesn’t really work, although Theron deserves some praise for making her heroine especially likable, although – again – she’s not given too much of a chance to be funny. The ever-reliable Neil Patrick Harris also has one really funny scene where he finds a novel use for a ten-gallon hat, while his love-interest, Amanda Seyfried, is so underused she barely registers. One can’t help but wonder if the movie would have gone over better if Harris and MacFarlane had swapped roles.
In the end, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST isn’t bad enough that it’s going to seriously harm MacFarlane’s film career, but it’s a good example of what really doesn’t work for him on the silver-screen. Funny enough, as a director he actually shows a good eye for scenery – much better than in TED – with him getting a lot out of the western locales and the old-timey sagebrush score by Joel McNeely. Sadly, just like TED, the movie goes on way too long, running a nearly oppressive two hours, At ninety-minutes, this would have come off a whole lot better. As it is, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is only recommended if you’re a die-hard MacFarlane devotee and think the man can do no wrong.
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