Movie Review: “A Million Ways to Die in the West” – Wild, Wacky, WTF West

Written by Leo Panasyuk June 05, 2014

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Comedy-westerns have been few and far between since “Blazing Saddles,” and Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” brings nothing new to the genre. MacFarlane’s film is yet another example of his weird, offbeat, awkward-chuckle-inducing style of comedy so frequently found in his “Simpsons”-esque sitcom “Family Guy.” Only this time the setting has been swapped from contemporary Quahog to the fateful frontier, and while the film does have a few solid spots of comedy it’s ultimately not enough to save it from succumbing to its own formulaic tricks.

“Everything is Trying to Kill You!”

Seth MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark (no relation to Tony or Ned, I would assume), a lowly and cowardly sheep farmer whose feeble attempts at courage lose him his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). When Stark spontaneously and stupidly agrees to a duel with Louise’s moustache-y new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), things look to be at an end for him – until he meets Anna (Charlize Theron), the girlfriend of feared gunslinger/outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). With Anna’s help, Stark learns how to shoot, have confidence, and how to love again. How touching.

Even in 1882, nothing suits him like a suit.

Even in 1882, nothing suits him like a suit.

“Take Your Hat Off, Boy! That’s a Dollar!”

This film suffers from a triad of issues: boring/boorish/offensive characters who elicit awkward chuckles rather than gut-busting hilarity, a complete lack of plot, and a failed sense of anachronistic comedy. The film, I will admit, has a strong opening reminiscent of classic John Ford westerns such as “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers,” and the score by Joel McNeely certainly possesses an Old-West feel to it, but everything goes downhill from there. Seth MacFarlane’s brand of crude and dirty comedy takes over and lassoes itself around the remainder of the film; everything from poop jokes with diarrhea punchlines, to anachronistic references about contemporary events and characters that will likely lose their worth in a decade or two are on display here, and they’re dreadful.

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Though it’s a small strong point, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” does have a fantastic supporting cast. Neeson and Theron (both Academy-recognized actors) bring true talent to this otherwise lifeless film, and their performances produced some of the film’s best scenes. While Neeson felt type-cast as the “badass-with-a-gun,” Theron’s performance offered more range, though the look of sheer boredom in her face betrayed her otherwise convincing, sympathetic performance. Neil Patrick Harris also offers up some great scenes and a musical number reminiscent of his ‘suit song’ from “How I Met Your Mother.” As for the others, Sarah Silverman plays an almost sexist role as a prostitute and Giovanni Ribisi is forgettable as Stark’s friend Edward. The film does, however, have a plethora of cameos from stars such as Ryan Reynolds, Gilbert Gottfried, and even Christopher Lloyd. Great Scott, indeed.

Overall

Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is yet another unnecessary example of his odd, offbeat brand of comedy.The film feels like a special episode of MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” as there is little here to work with and most of the jokes and tropes are repeated and overplayed to the point of death. A few strong supporting performances and some legitimately funny bits keep the film from being completely awful, however the mediocrity of its comedy coupled with its lazy approach give it a reason for why it should die. This is not how the west was (or should be) won.

My Rating: 3/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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