Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, and Liam Neeson
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material, Running time 116 minutes minutes, Comedy/Western
Compare to: Maverick (1994), Shanghai Noon (2000)
Don’t think of A Million Ways to Die in the West as a sort of spiritual successor to Blazing Saddles as much as it is a two hour long Family Guy Western. Does that sound good to you? Because if it does, this is right up your alley.
From mustaches to sheep, ethnicity to religion, nothing is safe in Seth MacFarlane’s cameo-filled frontier excursion.
It’s 1882 and Albert Stark is a witty and sensible sheep farmer that hates his own time. Wishing he were born in a different era due to the wild west’s nonstop cycles of violence, Albert’s outlook on life begins to change for the better when a mysterious woman arrives in town that’s starts to make him realize life in the west isn’t all bad. But an upcoming duel Albert’s been thrown into will have him sink or swim. Or rather, shoot or die.
What we have here is a comedy that should be given credit solely for it’s originality in format. Where are all the Westerns these days, much less Western/Comedies? Sure there have been some, but there’s so few that Blazing Saddles is the immediate comparison West and I’m not sure how well the two fit together. And MacFarlane can’t be cited for repeating himself from 2012’s talking teddy bear to a cowardly sheep farmer.
Many of the jokes here could only work in the specific time period of the dusty old frontier, a time that’s entertaining for movies to be made in, but who would want to live there? The film goes to excruciating lengths to make the title relevant as within the first fifteen minutes we’re treated to a MacFarlane monologue that seems to last forever as he rants about the dangers of the day.
The idea seems to be placing a man with a more contemporary mindset in a time when death and disease seemed to be a more accepted part of life.
The movie’s strong points are also its weak points though, as the jokes that don’t pertain to the period could just have easily been throwaway jokes from Family Guy or Ted. All the pomp and crassness of the writer/director’s previous work is found here too, unsurprisingly.
And though it does have it’s moments, Ways to Die has a bit too many negative things going for it for the positive to shine through. Much of the film relies on MacFarlane’s seemingly unscripted lines about how stupid everything around him is aaand… cut to a fart joke. Yes, we heard the first joke about the prostitute and her virgin boyfriend, we get that it’s open season on race and religion and oh look, there’s a penis!
Middle-school humor is still the way to go for Macfarlane, with the every-once-in-a-while reference to something unexpected. You’ll have the film’s pattern down in the first few minutes with nary a surprise after.
Positives: Refreshing to see something from the subgenre, jokes are made by the minute so if one isn’t funny the next might be, surprising cameos.
Negatives: Sticks with the “If it’s crude, it must be funny” formula, about thirty minutes too long, formulaic ‘loser-to-hero’ story