Summary: In Arizona, 1882, life in the wild west is one dangerous encounter after another. Albert (Seth MacFarlane) is a self-described "pussy" who sucks in just about every way. He can't keep track of his sheep, he can't fire a gun, and he's about to lose his beautiful girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the smarmy mustache next door (Neil Patrick Harris). But hope arrives in the form of a mysterious stranger (Charlize Theron) who helps Albert gain confidence as he tries to win Louise back.
MacFarlane's Sense of What's Funny
About a third of A Million Ways to Die in the West is crowd-pleasingly funny. It's nowhere near as great as Mel Brooks' old stuff or The Naked Gun films, but it's in that vein: Throw a thousand jokes at the audience and hope some of them stick. MacFarlane basically turns what might have been a Family Guy movie into a live action version of the cartoon that made him famous. That means a lot of jokes dead on arrival, a lot of random side references, and some religious humor. It ranges from the terrible (no less than five fart jokes) to the sublime (a tintype of 1882 Miss America looks like Meryl Streep in Doubt). I suppose the point is: The funny stuff is worth it if you're a fan of Family Guy in the least bit.
The Old-Timey Speak and Neil Patrick Harris
Although a lot of jokes land with a thud, the funniest bits are usually tinted with an old-timey edge that's spot on. Harris is especially funny playing the fancy pants rival to MacFarlane's wise-ass yokel. As the purveyor of mustache products, he sports a dandy himself and is constantly twirling and preening. He boasts about being able to afford "wrapped candies" for Louise and he leads the film's lone musical number.
Is It Too Soon to Make Fun of the Wild West?
It's a mystery why MacFarlane would want to lampoon the the old west. The short answer is it probably just makes him laugh thinking about how hard things were he can't imagine anyone actually doing it. So, right away, the object of the satire isn't worthy of the satire itself. This is what Adam Sandler does. He makes movies that are only funny to him and his group of friends. MacFarlane hasn't sunk quite as low as Sandler but he's on the same path if he wants to continue skewering people and places nobody really cares about.
Uneven Tone and Awful Title Credits
This is a small complaint but an important one: MacFarlane begins his film like a Bonanza episode with a soaring western score and big orange block letters introducing every cast and crew member. The sequence feels about 10 minutes long and it adds nothing to the film. If anything, it promises the wrong thing. People may expect an actual movie instead of a bunch of pieced together bits of sketch comedy. Title credits are a dinosaur to today's ADD-infected audiences. They need to be put to bed unless the director is using them creatively, as in something like Django Unchained, to further the tone of the film. MacFarlane's credits are sorely out of place once the movie starts. It's immediately goofy as the narrator from Ted starts in and we meet Albert, talking like it's 2014 in 1882.
MacFarlane the Actor
Although he has a few moments and uses his over-the-top excitement to maximum effect, there's a strange out-of-placeness to MacFarlane in this film. For one, he's got groomed sideburns and a fauxhawk, not exactly a 19th century look. Second, he talks like it's present day. Much of the humor comes from a place of hindsight. His character is constantly reflecting/complaining about everything. This contributes to how he fits in (he doesn't) and it begs the question why he doesn't move? (Albert threatens to move to San Francisco a couple times but nothing comes of it.) We must also endure two cringe-worthy open mouth kisses between MacFarlane and Theron, although a scene where Seyfried sucks Harris' greasy mustache almost makes up for them.
At 116 minutes, A Million Ways feels like 116 hours. Comedies with no story do not need to be this long just to squeeze in (or out) a couple more fart jokes. The movie actually ends, but then MacFarlane outruns the bad guys and ends up tripping with a band of Cherokees. The actual meat of the film would probably last about 80 minutes, but it's overflowing with side jokes, references, and forced humor that just falls flat.
Final Grade: C-
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Music by Joel McNeely
Runtime: 116 minutes
Based on A Million Ways to Die in the West, Netflix would also recommend: Blazing Saddles, The Jerk, Back to the Future Part III, Casa de mi Padre
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