Monday, October 6, 2014

Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane.
Written by: Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild.
Starring: Seth MacFarlane (Albert), Charlize Theron (Anna), Amanda Seyfried (Louise), Liam Neeson (Clinch), Giovanni Ribisi (Edward), Neil Patrick Harris (Foy), Sarah Silverman (Ruth), Christopher Hagen (George Stark), Wes Studi (Cochise), Matt Clark (Old Prospector).

Seth MacFarlane can be very funny – but he works best in small doses. Almost every episode of Family Guy has at least one or two moments that make me laugh out loud – but they are most often surrounded by so much crap that the show itself is never more than average. MacFarlane gets laughs simply by telling so many jokes that some of them are bound to land. When he made he feature directing debut, the result was the surprisingly funny and consistent Ted – which was a very well structured comedy that was actually funny from beginning to end. His follow-up A Million Ways to Die in the West is sadly much more like Family Guy – a film that piles up one joke after another, with very little thought given to the structure of the movie as a whole. Yes, there are moments in the film that made me laugh – but they are all isolated moments. The movie has no real flow – and is way overlong (I saw the unrated directors cut on DVD – which was 2 hours and 14 minutes) – and the film simply drags on and on and on.

MacFarlane stars in the movie as Albert – a sheep farmer in some backwater town in the West in the 1880s. When the film opens, he backs out of a gunfight with a local tough guy, because he knows damn well that he will lose, and be killed. This marks him as a coward – and his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him on the spot. He goes into a funk – but comes out of it when he meets Anna (Charlize Theron). He doesn’t know that she is married to Clinch (Liam Neeson) – an outlaw who has killed many times before – he just thinks that she is a new farmer in town. Clinch is lying low, waiting for his chance to strike. Meanwhile Albert and Anna start to fall in love – even as he still pines for Louise, who is now dating Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) – who is very proud of his moustache. The other major characters are Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) – who works as a prostitute, but won’t have sex with Edward until they get married – the relationship between these two is actually much sweeter than that brief description would imply.

MacFarlane basically spends the entire movie winking at the audience. He makes no real attempt to make a realistic Western, and his character essentially plays like a modern character transported back in time to comment on how ridiculous this time period was. MacFarlane should well have known that making a Western comedy like this has to be good – after all, you are inevitably going to be compared to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) – which is one of the greatest comedies every made. MacFarlane is no Mel Brooks – which we already knew – but here he’s even worse than he is normally.

The main problem with A Million Ways to Die in the West is that is basically just one joke after another, and very few of them are actually funny. MacFarlane doesn’t pay attention to things like plot and character – he just basically riffs on the Western genre, and then calls it day. He does anything for a laugh, even if it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. Now, had it been funny, I could have forgiven it – but sadly it isn’t really funny at all.

A Million Ways to Die in the West would have made more sense had it been MacFarlane’s first film, not his second. With Ted, he showed he knows exactly what is needed to make a mainstream comedy in Hollywood – changing his television style to fit a different medium. In A Million Ways to Die in the West, he seems to have forgotten everything that made Ted work so well.

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