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Film Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane’s cowboy comedy falls flat.

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COURTESY PHOTO.
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A Million Ways to Die in the West | C-

 

It’s strangely appropriate that TV cartoon impresario Seth MacFarlane chose a Western for his latest picture, as his joke style involves firing blindly until something hits, and his technique is about as accurate as a the guy riding shotgun on a stagecoach, riding full-speed over a bumpy desert trail. They could have just called it A Million Jokes Die in the West so That Six May Work

In a bit of a departure, MacFarlane has placed his own oddly smooth mug front and center, after years of hiding behind foul-mouthed babies and cuddly teddy bears, and the results are a bit jarring. The conceit in this parody/gross-out yuk-fest is that MacFarlane’s awkward sheepherder, Albert Stark, is a sensitive, modern soul born into the barbaric Wild West, where just about everyone and everything is prepared to kill you. This setup does provide for a few good sight gags, including poor saps being crushed by giant blocks of ice, gored by wild bulls, and the mayor of the town lying unnoticed in the street, before being dragged away by wolves. There’s probably a decent SNL sketch worth of material that can be wrought from this premise, but stretched to feature length, the humor becomes as flat as an Arizona mesa. 

The potty-obsessed auteur pads out the sexism, racism, and scatology with romantic comedy tropes, casting Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron as the lovely blonde dames competing for nerdy Albert’s affection, which is unintentionally hilarious. Liam Neeson at least has a blast as the snarling villain, dubbed Clinch Leatherwood, a name so corny that it might have come right from the old Flintstones writers room. Sarah Silverman also gamely embraces her role as a frontier hooker who chastely refuses sex with her fiancé (Giovanni Ribisi), but this bit eventually wears itself out too. 

Cataloging the scattered highlights in this farce doesn’t do justice to the many deathly valleys the movie falls to in its nearly two hours, with poor Neil Patrick Harris forced to literally shit in a hat for a punch line.

The fatal malfunction in this spoof is that MacFarlane is trying to evoke the feel of Woody Allen classics like Love and Death, but too many of the supporting characters break period reality to stand around and giggle at the star’s act. MacFarlane is just too smug and vain to play an effective nebbish, and his teeth are distractingly whiter than his hat. 

A Million Ways to Die in the West is rated R, has a run time of 116 minutes, and is in theaters now.

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