If you're Actor/Writer/Director Seth MacFarlane, your unique brand of comedy has brought you amazing successes (Ted, Family Guy) and some quick yanks of the comedic hook (2013 Oscars). For A Million Ways to Die in the West, MacFarlane this time turns the old west on its ear, hoping to make the difficulties of western life into a laugh-fest. Such a premise could make for a really funny movie.
Unfortunately, it doesn't.
Sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) gripes about the dangers of living in the west - disease, native attacks, poverty, and senseless violence are a daily part of life, making him long for the big city life of San Francisco. He gripes about these difficulties to his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward's protitute girlfriend, Ruth (Sarah Silverman). Throughout the film, Ruth actively engages in sex with her clients while denying Edward his turn due to their strict Christian upbringing. All Albert has is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), who decides to dump him for the businessman Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who runs a svelt mustache store. One day, the mystery girl Anna (Charlize Theron) blows into town and Albert is instantly smitten. What he doesn't realize is that Anna is married to Clinch (Liam Neeson), whose fast gun makes him the most dangerous man in the territory. As Anna and Albert become close, Albert must prepare for a deadly showdown when Clinch learns of their romantic involvement.
As a writer, MacFarlane simply transplants 21st Century figures into an 19th Century one. There's no evidence of him or anyone else being from any other place than a trailer backlot in Hollywood. That's ok, considering that we're talking about a paraody than an Clint Eastwood western drama. But, there's still problems with its execution, as if the cast are merely there to ad-lib over a predictable and paper-thin plot. Offensive humor can be funny (see Batchelor Party, Airplane!, Beerfest, and Ted), but Million's schtick is decidedly unfunny in large sections. Like to laugh at a sheep penis dispensing urine onto Albert's face? Think the site of Foy shooting diarrea into top hats is epic comedy? This one's for you - for us, not so much. Comedies also need a connected story and ones that don't turn on itself to employ old-school cliches - the tough-minded Anna is suddenly the damsel in distress, requiring the heretofore Albert to man up. There's never a reason stated why Anna is so attracted to Albert, which probably isn't the point; but it's clear that Anna is seting her sights significantly lower than she should.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is rated R for everything imaginable and has a runtime of 116 minutes.
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