Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude and Sexual Content, Language throughout, some Violence and Drug Material
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Written by: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris & Sarah Silverman
Seth MacFarlane has gained a massive audience from his various TV shows, some more successful than others (FAMILY GUY & AMERICAN DAD > THE CLEVELAND SHOW). In 2012, he surprised everybody with TED. This heavily R-rated comedy received solid response from critics and a hefty box office receipt from audiences. I originally expected TED to play out like one big extended FAMILY GUY skit and was pleasantly surprised to call it one of the funniest comedies of the new millennium. The same cannot be said of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. MacFarlane’s second directorial effort plays out like one big extended FAMILY GUY skit. It’s not horrible (as many reviews would have you believe), but it’s also still a disappointment. This is one of those sad occasions in which nearly every solid joke has been placed front and center in the marketing (including one cameo that was brilliant, but spoiled by a trailer). MacFarlane’s film is aiming for crude and raunchy humor, but commits the sins of either trying too hard or going long stretches without a single laugh.
Albert Stark is a cowardly sheep farmer living in the small town of Old Stump. The year is 1882 and Stark despises everything to do with the Old West. It’s a dangerous time where everything seems out to kill you. From rattlesnakes on the outhouse trail to the doctor with radical medical theories, Stark does his best to avoid an untimely demise in a time where death is all too commonplace. Louise, his girlfriend, is tired of his behavior and leaves him for the mustachioed Foy. That’s when Anna (wife of the Clinch Leatherwood, the most notorious gunslinger around) strolls into town and Stark falls head over heels for her, unaware of her true identity. With Anna’s assistance, Stark trains to be a gunfighter and must man up if he wants to live to see another day as Clinch Leatherwood is on his way to town.
The film’s plot isn’t necessarily as basic as the trailers have indicated. Things flow in one big chain-of-events and MacFarlane gets so wrapped up in telling his story that there are stretches (notably a long one in the middle) where I was thinking to myself that “We’ve gone a while without a single workable joke.” That’s already a bad sign with a comedy. A well-constructed comedy should move things along in a story while keeping you entertained with laughs all the way through. There shouldn’t be a long enough gap for the viewer to notice that they haven’t been given anything to laugh at for a sizable chunk of time.
The all-star cast range from giving good performances and to dishing out some mediocre ones. Cameos are sprinkled throughout (some so quick that if you blink, you’re likely to miss them) and the most ingenious moment was already given away in the promotional material. As the leads, Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron are a bit bland. Amanda Seyfried is so-so in the role of Louise and didn’t get a single laugh out of me. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson is channeling the villainous Clinch Leatherwood as if the character is straight out of a serious Western. The coupling of Giovanni Ribisi (who provided the funniest scene in TED as far as I’m concerned) and Sarah Silverman as Stark’s best friends works well. Silverman’s prostitute character also has one of the most disgusting scenes in the entire film. The real scene-stealer is Neil Patrick Harris, who’s gleefully tearing up the screen as Foy wearing a glorious facial accessory (his well-greased fine-tuned moustache). Harris has the best lines, the best scenes, and gets the most laughs. He already proved in the HAROLD & KUMAR films that he can be hysterical and that’s certainly the case here.
MacFarlane’s sense of humor either works for you or it doesn’t. This film isn’t aiming for the pinnacle of high comedic gold and it revels in gratuity. Some jokes feel dusty and others makes it seem like MacFarlane was trying too hard. There are enough satisfying laughs that make this a decent enough time-killer though. Swearing, modern phrases, genitalia, bodily functions, and plenty of racism is scattered all over the place and the movie revels in the crude content that would easily make it the favorite film of a rowdy pack of Junior High kids (in fact, I predict it will be in the near future). It’s funny, but there are stretches where the jokes fall flat or are entirely absent. Then there’s the overlong running time of the film that feels far more concerned with telling a story than receiving any laughs or even chuckles. A tighter running time and a simpler story might have sufficed for a more entertaining movie. Instead, the plot feels entirely too stretched for its own good and concludes on an oddly anti-climactic note for a movie that had been building up to a certain key moment.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is enjoyable enough for some cheap laughs with friends. I wouldn’t recommend running out and paying full price to see this one on the big screen. This may be more enjoyable at a discount theater or as a Redbox rental. It’s an acceptable Western-Comedy (a subgenre that doesn’t seem to have any other movies besides BLAZING SADDLES), but not one I’d be particularly excited about watching again. It’s enjoyable at the time, but you’ll be struggling to remember any hilarious scenes by the end of the day.