A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

6 Overall Score
Screenplay : 5/10
Directing : 7/10
Performances : 7/10

Great Supporting Cast, Sporadically Hilarious, Unexpected Surprises

Too Long, Several Jokes Fall Flat, Wasted Liam Neeson

There may not be a more divisive figure in comedy right now than Seth MacFarlane. The Family Guy and American Dad! creator takes a lot of criticism for his mix of controversial humor and pop-culture references, but he was met with plenty of success for his 2012 directorial debut Ted. My admiration of MacFarlane is as consistent as his brand of comedy, which is to say not very consistent. At times I think his manic energy and randomness is brilliant and genuinely hilarious, but his tendency to rely on brand recognition and shock humor feels lazy and uninspired. His newest feature, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is certainly a MacFarlane feature in every right. It’s an occasionally very funny, yet sophomoric comedy that features just enough strong moments to work.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is MacFarlane’s own raunchy version of Blazing Saddles in its satire of Westerns and cowboy films. The film stars MacFarlane as sheep farmer Albert, a conservative and somewhat cowardly personality in a time where it was not only incredibly easy to die, but where machismo and shooting others to protect your honor was all the rage. His backing out of a gunfight causes his shallow girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to break up with him. Heartbroken and alone, Albert meets Anna (Charlize Theron), a newcomer to his small town whose past is shrouded in mystery. One thing that’s made certain is that Anna can sharp shoot as well as any man, so when Albert becomes involved in a gunfight with Louise’s new lover, the cocksure and well-endowed with facial hair Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert and Anna decide to train together.

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MacFarlane serves as co-writer with long-time collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesey Wild, and claims the idea for the screenplay came from an inside joke between the three. I feel confident in saying a film based on an inside joke will never be a tour de force of story and characters, but a good premise such as this has a certain potential for comic hilarity. What A Million Days to Die in the West provides is mostly a mixed bag. On one hand, there are some very strong one-liners, some inspired moments of physical comedy, and some genuine surprises in the form of various cameos. On the other hand, there’s an overreliance on sexual jokes and toilet humor that gets tedious fast. There’s a lot of the director’s best and worst tendencies here, which makes for a rough terrain.

As a director, MacFarlane also delivers a mixed bag. A surprising strength of the film is the director’s visual style, as his shots are well-composed and look very professional. The cinematography of Michael Barrett accurately captures the beautiful landscapes and intense colors of the West. MacFarlane also hasn’t lost his sense for comedic timing, and it helps that the jokes he’s delivering are of his own doing. Where MacFarlane lacks polish, however, is in his pacing. West runs a hefty 115 minutes, which is especially long for a comedy. The film has trouble sustaining consistency due to its scattershot sense of humor, and it tests ones patience at several moments.

For as much as he does behind the scenes, MacFarlane is not nearly as strong of a presence in front of the camera. I think he’s a perfectly serviceable leading man, but his true comedic talents come from the wacky manipulation of his voice. His supporting cast here does much of the heavy lifting, and most of them are terrific. Theron is great in a role that doesn’t require much from her considerable acting prowess, and she’s clearly having a ball here. The same goes for Liam Neeson, who snarls his way through a one-note villain role with his typical conviction. Giovani Ribisi and Sarah Silverman have their moments as a couple that are looking to have sex for the first time (a subplot that really doesn’t have any bearing on the story). Per usual, Neil Patrick Harris almost steals the movie, strutting around with a veiled manliness and jerkish attitude that provide some of the biggest laughs. His big musical set piece about the joy of moustaches is one of the film’s highlights.

A Million Ways to Die in the West has so many of the typical stampings of a Seth MacFarlane production that it’s equally parts frustrating as it is amusing. It’s a film that kept losing me as rapidly as it kept winning me back. Its share of cringe-worthy moments are met with a number of genuine laughs, and while it may overstay its welcome by the end, it’s a mildly enjoyable movie-going experience throughout thanks to surprising craftsmanship and a game cast. There’s no need to risk your life to go to the theater, but you won’t want to think of ways to die while watching it.

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Author: Andrew Auger View all posts by
Andrew Auger is a student at Marist College and is majoring in Journalism. He is a huge fan of movies, and considers the late film critic Roger Ebert his idol. He hopes to one day be a prestigious film critic just like Mr. Ebert.

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