Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material
Article first published as Movie Review: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ on Blogcritics.
I think we were all a little worried about Family Guy
creator Seth MacFarlane venturing into live-action filmmaking. After
proving he could withstand two cancellations on the Fox network, the
surprising part of his venture was that it would be distributed by
Universal Pictures. 2012’s Ted proved to be a smashing success with his trademark humor translating brilliantly and now with his second feature, A Million Ways to Die in the West,
he proves that he can not only still deliver the brand of laughs we’ve
come to expect, but can also make a full-blooded, rootin’ tootin’
Western to boot. It may not be as brazenly funny as Ted, but this is definitely the second funniest film of the year, beaten so far only by the no-holds-barred Neighbors.
Old Stump, Arizona in 1882, sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) has
just talked his way out of a duel. Due to his cowardice, his girlfriend
Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him. He’s not only a coward, but also the
worst sheep farmer around. Meanwhile, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson)
has just arrived on the outskirts of town with his gang of outlaws in
tow, including his wife Anna (Charlize Theron). Anna is sent into Old
Stump to pose as the new girl in town and takes Albert under her wing
after he challenges Louise’s new beau Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to a
duel. Anna teaches Albert how to shoot a gun and fall in love, but not
before Clinch catches word that someone is making the moves on his wife.
Now there’s a million and one ways to die in the West.
A Million Ways to Die in the West may not reach the heights of the classic Blazing Saddles,
but MacFarlane isn’t trying to make that kind of comedy. This is the
MacFarlane show through and through. With him cast center stage, it
takes a strong love for the man’s comedic sensibilities to even find the
film funny. It’s a love it or hate it kind of humor and I love it.
Stretching his jokes beyond the breaking point, it’s exactly the kind of
insanity we’ve come to expect from MacFarlane. There are far more
chances to catch your breath this time, thanks to MacFarlane and his Ted
co-writers (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) giving the film an actual
plot. While the 116-minute runtime may seem excessive, this is a
full-blown Western and the genre is no stranger to epic runtimes.
One of the best things going for the film is that MacFarlane makes
for a surprisingly handsome leading man. He has great chemistry with
Theron. The rest of the cast is having a ball as well, even if Neeson is
a tad underused as the main villain. Cameos are par for the course with
some being funnier than others—the best one unfortunately being spoiled
in the most recent trailer and TV spots—but MacFarlane’s pop culture
jabbing also runs rampant, with jokes flying fast and furious covering
everything from How I Met Your Mother to bringing back gags from Ted. A Million Ways to Die in the West won’t go down as the funniest movie of the year, but it is definitely one
of the funniest movies of the year. MacFarlane makes sure that while
everything in the West may be trying to kill you, that there are a
million ways to laugh in a movie.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures