Nothing cinematically sucks more than a comedy that makes you yawn.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is one of the summer movie season’s biggest bummers. Seth MacFarlane’s second feature directorial effort (after the breezy and hilarious Ted) is a lumbering enterprise. It’s not awful, and it does have its share of giggles, but it can’t be classified as anything close to a good movie. That’s a kick in the balls, because some slicker editing and a dial-back on the gross-out gags could’ve kept this thing closer to 90 minutes (instead of nearly two hours) and would have gotten rid of the moments that go too far.
Like Mel Brooks with the classic Blazing Saddles, MacFarlane tried to make a satirical Western that truly looks and feels like a Western. He gets the cinematography right, but his tempo is way off. While Blazing Saddles had the exuberance of a grand Western, MacFarlane’s dependence on comic violence and slow pacing feels like he’s trying to make something like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but funny. It doesn’t work.
MacFarlane plays Albert, a snarky, ahead-of-his-time guy trying to survive in the great American West. He’s a sheep farmer, but he’s terrible at it; one of his animals constantly winds up on his roof. He’s always getting into trouble with his wise mouth, and his inability to stand up for himself in manly gunfights has earned the ire of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).
After getting dumped, Albert is determined to win Louise back. Enter newcomer Anna (a stunningly sweet Charlize Theron), who befriends Albert and tutors him in the ways of women. She also must show Albert how to shoot a gun after he challenges the evil Foy (Neil Patrick Harris)—Louise’s extravagantly mustachioed and arrogant new beau—to a gunfight.
Instead of going for something goofy with the relationship between Albert and Anna, MacFarlane tries to make their budding romance feel “real.” It is completely out of place in a movie like this. And, let’s face it: MacFarlane has his charms, but he doesn’t seem like a likely romantic partner for Theron. They look unintentionally funny together, like Peter Brady trying to kiss Marilyn Monroe.
Liam Neeson appears in the thankless role of Clinch, a resident killer and the husband of Anna (unbeknownst to Albert). Neeson sneers his way through his role with nothing funny to do, unless you regard the sight of him having a daisy shoved in his butt as funny.
A subplot involving a hooker (Sarah Silverman) and her virgin boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) is full of jokes too obvious and too old for them, although they try hard to rise above the material. (I did like the moment in which Ribisi referenced his deranged dance moves from Ted.)
MacFarlane drags out some gags way too long. For example, Neil Patrick Harris crapping in hats after ingesting laxative powder is kind of funny. However, we don’t need to see the results of an accident spill out of a hat. As for the violence, the first few deaths get laughs, but they grow tiresome, fast.
MacFarlane’s attempt to emulate Mel Brooks has fallen flat. He has Ted 2 on the boards as a producer. He should just go ahead and direct that film, and return to some familiar territory for recalibrating. If he were to, say, announce a Frankenstein or Robin Hood spoof in the near future, that would be a bad sign.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is playing at theaters across the valley.