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A Million Ways to Die in the West Review: Gross-Out Humor Isn't Enough

The western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West makes us wish for a quick end.



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 we said, such a premise should lead to tons of laughs - unfortunately, the film is so slow in places that the few truly funny one-liners fall on mostly deaf ears. You know what you get with MacFarlane: gross-out humor designed for 12 year olds, but with other projects MacFarlane also brought intelligent commentary. Million's uneven nature can only be attributed to MacFarlane, whose trio of job titles are splashed largely over the digital canvas.

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.

As a director, MacFarlane doesn't do near enough to draw comedy out of his well-apportioned troupe. While we adore Theron, she lacks comedic energy here to keep the ship afloat, missing out on key moments of humor due to her lack of experience with it. The same goes for Seyfried, but we're particularly disappointed in Harris's stoggy performance. And if this is MacFarlane's effort to insert himself into his own movies, the result is decidedly meh - although his voice is clearly leading man, his stature has yet to catch up. His utterance of lines feel almost like standup comedy, completely unhinged from the evironment he as a director is trying to create. Silverman really offers the only consistent laughs, unwilling to sleep with Ribisi but ready to hit the hay with her paying clients. When it finally arrives, their anticipated moment of coitus is just not as funny as it could have been. There's a few cameos sprinkled throughout the film, which is about 30 minutes too long, reminding us just how tenuous a motion picture can be when it robs itself early of all its many gifts.

Fans of MacFarlane expecting another hilarious romp like Ted will be seriously disappointed. Boring in large sections and laughingly bad in others, Million feels more like a 10 cent show that squanders much of its top-rated talent. We can't recommend it as anything other than an eventual rental, as its gross-out comedy isn't necessary to the story. it probably won't go down as the worst comedy of the year (so long as there's an Adam Sandler movie out), but it sure feels like a huge misfire.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is rated R for everything imaginable and has a runtime of 116 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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