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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Almost a quarter-decade ago, The American President came out; it’s a cutesy romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a Bill Clinton-like president and Annette Bening as the lady he wants to date. America swooned, but I threw up. I hated it.

Now, in the Trump era, we get Long Shot, a different twist on a high-profile politician dating a commoner. This time out, Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, secretary of state and potential presidential candidate. Her eventual romantic interest is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist-turned-speech writer who, not surprisingly, smokes lots of weed.

Long Shot is better than The American President. It’s a lot better than The American President.

Flarsky is a dweeby, wind-breaker-wearing columnist whose alternative-weekly newspaper is sold to a conservative media mogul (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis). He quits his job and finds himself attending a high-society party featuring Charlotte and Boyz II Men along with his best pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., showing he’s a lot funnier than his reasonably funny dad, Ice Cube).

It turns out that Fred knows Charlotte; she was a neighbor when he was a kid, and she (being three years older) baby-sat him. They get reacquainted; Fred gets a job as her speech writer; one thing leads to another; and there you have it—one of the year’s most unlikely rom-com pairings. It works swimmingly, because Theron and Rogen have serious onscreen chemistry.

Before you go squawking that a woman of Theron’s caliber would never date a Rogen-type in real life, I’d like to point out that Theron seriously dated the scrunchy-faced Sean Penn. Seth Rogen kicks Sean Penn’s ass in many categories, including looks. Just saying.

Whatever you may think of this pairing before you see the movie, trust me: Theron and Rogen pull it off. Their courtship is funny, awkward, hilariously drug-laced and utterly convincing. There are many fantasy elements to this movie, but most of those play out on the political side. As for the romance part, that’s the most realistic thing happening in this film. Charlotte likes to party, and much of the Fred character is modeled after Rogen—and Rogen is the king of partying. It’s a good match.

The political stuff is hyper-satire, with Bob Odenkirk scoring big points as the former TV star-turned-president who won’t be seeking re-election, because he wants to make the big leap into film. (He idolizes Woody Harrelson.) Oh, if only this were this the case in 2020 …

Long Shot is directed by real-life Rogen buddy Jonathan Levine. (The two worked together on 50/50 and The Night Before.) Levine proves to be the right choice to pull off the wacky screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, a script that gives equal time to environmental issues and accidentally jacking off into one’s beard (a moment reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary). It’s a daring script that takes chances, like a nuclear-bomb thriller portion. Not all of the jokes hit the mark, but enough do.

Theron is one of the best actresses at work today, and she’s also one of the funniest. (See her stint on Arrested Development for further evidence.) She’s actually funnier than Rogen in this movie. That’s not a dig on Rogen; he’s funny, but Theron wins the funny war in Long Shot. As for Jackson, his Lance deserves his own spinoff movie.

Sadly, Long Shot got its clock cleaned at the box office by a little movie called Avengers: Endgame. It looks like America isn’t convinced it needs to see Theron and Rogen making out while high on molly. Whatever. If you are skipping this because you think the pairing looks ridiculous, know that it is indeed a ridiculous movie—but the pairing is the least-ridiculous thing about it. They are a good onscreen couple. I hope they work together again, and I hope Long Shot finds life in the future on streaming platforms.

Long Shot is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The hardships faced by a woman raising children while giving birth to another—with little help from the dad—are given the Diablo Cody treatment in Tully, the second time screenwriter Cody, director Jason Reitman and actress Charlize Theron have joined forces.

They worked together on the caustic comedy Young Adult, and Tully makes that one look like an ice cream social party featuring bounce houses and unicorns. (For the purpose of this analogy, the unicorns would need to remain outside of the bounce houses to prevent people from being impaled on their majestic horns.)

Theron is all kinds of magnificent as Marlo, a mother of two getting ready to give birth to her third—while getting her ass kicked physically and emotionally. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), while not complete scum, should probably take off the headphones at night and go the extra mile to help keep the household in order, and keep his wife sane. Their young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), has been dubbed “quirky” by his school, and finding a new one has become an unwelcome priority. Their daughter, Emmy (Maddie Dixon-Poirer), is slightly neglected, yet one of the more-together people in the movie.

Marlo’s well-off brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), gets his sis a special gift: a night nanny to help with the baby and household chores so she can grab some sleep. After the baby is born, Marlo is reluctant at first, but finally relents and calls the number her bro has provided.

Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives like an angel in bohemian clothing and immediately helps by brightening Marlo’s downer moods. She has an instant, mother-like rapport with the new baby, miraculously cleans the house overnight, and even bakes cupcakes for Jonah’s class. She also provides much-needed friendship to Marlo, who has fallen out of touch with Drew and has become prone to snapping at people in public. In short, Marlo has been close to a meltdown in a bad bout of postpartum depression. Tully helps Marlo rise above and power through.

The movie isn’t just about a mother in need getting a helping hand; that would be mighty conventional compared to what actually happens in Tully. Cody has had two children since her scripting debut with Juno, her first pairing with Reitman. For her sake, I’m hoping little of what Marlo goes through in her latest script is autobiographical. Marlo has it rough.

Theron makes physical and mental exhaustion totally enthralling, and the moments when Marlo can’t take it anymore and lets the world have it are barnburners. Theron is a miraculous actress, and she gets a nice counterpart in Davis, who represents the type of free spirit Marlo could never become. I’m doubting 2018 will give us many screen duos as captivating as this one.

I do have a minor quibble: Drew gets off the hook a little too easy in this movie. Granted, dudes are let off the hook everyday by moms taking on most of the challenges of child-rearing, but the last shot of Tully reeks a bit of over-compensation for the trials and tribulations that happened before it. It feels a little too cute.

However, there’s no denying that the rest of the movie is one of the more brutally honest depictions of the challenges (and undeniable blessings) of parenting. Yes, the price paid is often worth the reward, but Marlo definitely gets put through the wringer here, and Theron makes her pain and struggle real.

She also provides laughter with the shocks and sorrow, further proving she’s one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the screen. Reitman and Cody give Theron great stuff to work with—and once again, she’s in Oscar-worthy form.

Tully is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, placing another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

As Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin as the wall begins to fall in the late 1980s—she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also knows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.

Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and the future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks were flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and he choreographs action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you feel it.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film does drag at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation-room scenes, with Toby Jones and John Goodman drilling her for answers. Atomic Blonde could’ve used some tightening in the edit room; instead, one must wade through the shallow parts.

Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing nefarious info about her and her fellow agents—a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), somebody who mixes his espionage with partying—and trafficking in the black market for Jordache jeans.

Theron and McAvoy are good together onscreen, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best scenes that don’t involve teeth getting broken. As for the bone-crunching action, there’s a sequence in this movie that rivals a Logan scene as the best of the year thus far. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase, viewed as if it were all done in one shot. It’s an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot and getting your face kicked in. Even if the rest of the movie consisted of Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth seeing for that scene. It’s classically good.

McAvoy, having a great year with this and Split, has elevated him himself from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter in 2017. He’s a nut in this movie, as was the case in Split. He’s an actor who is willing to take some risks, and they are paying off. He also might win the award for Best Strained Dialogue Delivery While Keeping a Cigarette in One’s Mouth Through a Major Ass-Kicking.

As good as he is, you won’t go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron’s vehicle, and she owns it. Theron, an Academy Award-winning actress who can dramatically spar with the best of them, is a physical performer in league with the best. In this movie, she’ll convince you that neither Conor McGregor nor Floyd Mayweather would stand a chance in the ring with Theron.

Late ’80s playlists are sure to spike on streaming services thanks to the film’s soundtrack, which includes David Bowie, Queen, Falco, ‘Til Tuesday, The Clash and, quite notably, George Michael. (His “Father Figure” is put to astonishingly good use in that classic scene I mentioned above.) Leitch and company find great ways to make the music part of the film, and while I probably never needed to hear “99 Luftbalons” again, the presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” is much appreciated.

The summer movie season is coming to a close, and while Atomic Blonde isn’t one of the summer’s best, it does have a couple of the summer’s best scenes. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to warrant another Atomic Blonde movie, but there’s definitely room for more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. She’s quite good at it.

Atomic Blonde is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In The Fate of the Furious—easily the dumbest title in the Furious franchise, even dumber than Tokyo Drift—you get to see the most disgusting, stomach-churning moment in cinema so far this year.

That would be Charlize Theron planting a big, sloppy kiss on Vin Diesel, the visual of which creates a “girl from Monster meets the Pillsbury Doughboy on steroids” nightmare. Five years ago, I made a list of five things I never wanted to see, and that came in at No. 3, right under “Donald Trump as President” and “Spiders in My Scrambled Eggs Being Served to Me by a Man With Weeping Hand Sores.”

Somewhere along the way, the Furious franchise went completely bonkers and became less about cars racing around and more about dudes, with upper arms the size of a bull’s torso, who think hair on the top of their heads is total bullshit. It also went off on some sort of international-spy-team tangent. That worked to a hilarious degree in Furious 7, but in The Fate of the Furious, the trajectory becomes ridiculous without much fun: It’s just dumb and plodding. The big thing here is that Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has gone rogue and turned on his family, which has something to do with a cyber villain named Cipher (Theron) and her crazy dreadlock extensions.

The film opens with Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) having a good old time in Cuba, where we last saw them. Dominic gets into a car race that involves his vehicle catching fire, and him speaking in a growling, marble-mouthed manner. Post-race, he’s approached by Cipher, who is wearing a stunning outfit involving denim shorts. Dominic takes a look at something on her cell phone, mumbles and groans a bit—and the international intrigue begins.

Cipher is after nuclear launch codes and electromagnetic pulse contraptions, and Dominic becomes her pit bull. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) are eventually employed by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to get with Dominic and see what’s going on in that big, Barry Bonds-sized head of his.

The portions of the film that involve Johnson and Statham are good—good enough to inspire thoughts of a spinoff film in which their characters join up and solve crimes while fighting Batman, Sylvester Stallone, Godzilla, etc. However, a very real chance at something like that apparently got squashed because Diesel screamed, “Mine, mine, mine, all mine!” and put the kibosh on it.

The biggest problem is that the film takes itself too seriously, with heavy doses of drama being ladled into the mix. The movie even makes way for Vin Diesel to have his Denzel Washington-in-Glory tear moment—that moment in which a single, solitary tear rolls down his cheek while the actor does his best to remain stone-faced.

The whole premise of Dominic going rogue has zero dramatic tension; I’ll simply say that there’s little mystery behind his “traitorous” actions. Also—and this goes without saying—he mopes a lot.

Theron is a great actress, but her supposed computer-genius Cipher is a character who mostly stands in a room barking out commands while everybody else does the legwork. Yes, there’s a scene or two in which she types really fast on a keyboard, but the notion that she is a cyber-terrorist goddess gets lost somewhere in those crazy dreadlocks.

The Furious franchise will go on, obviously. Hopefully, producer Diesel will remember what makes the whole thing fun and shift the emphasis from him squirting tears back to cars going, “Vroom, vroom!” and jumping between skyscrapers and over the Grand Canyon.

And, hey, let’s keep these things around 90 minutes in the future. This one clocks in at 156 minutes. That’s almost an entire other movie too long.

The Fate of the Furious is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

From the makers of ParaNorman and Coraline comes Kubo and the Two Strings, another stop-motion wonder that’s a fantastically fun combination of puppetry and CGI. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year.

The title character is a young boy (an amazingly expressive creation voiced by Art Parkinson) who must go on a quest to deal with a nasty family war that has claimed the lives of his parents. He searches for a suit of armor needed to combat his evil granddad (Ralph Fiennes … of course). He’s assisted on his quest by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey, in his first animated film).

The visuals are constantly breathtaking; the writing is often very clever and funny; and the message is sweet and enduring. As with some of the Laika studio’s past creations, some sequences might be too much for the young ones, but it’s nothing the average 8-year-old can’t handle.

Special Features: They include an audio commentary from the director, and a solid making-of doc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Four years ago, when Snow White and the Huntsman came out, Kristen Stewart was all the rage. The film made lotsa money, and it looked like the former Bella had a new franchise on her hands.

Not so fast. Kristen, in a moment of shameful and delicious wickedness, made out in public (well, in front of somebody’s unauthorized camera, anyway) with that film’s married director, much to the chagrin of then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson—and, consequently, her fan base. Plans for a sequel starring her were scrapped, and a whole new plan centering on co-star and budding movie giant Chris Hemsworth (Thor!) was hatched.

What producers didn’t realize at the time was that Hemsworth basically sucks when he’s doing anything other than playing Thor. Blackhat, In the Heart of the Sea, Vacation and now this mighty slice of hell are proof of this.

While Snow White was no creative party, it was a tolerable misfire. However, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a complete mess. It probably looked good on paper or around the pitch table, but the finished product plays like a drunken, straining renaissance festival after the organizer was strung out on heroin.

Because sorcery and magic mirrors were involved in the original, Charlize Theron is allowed to return as the evil Ravenna, even though she was dead. Because Stewart is gone, there’s enough money for two new stars, so in come Emily Blunt as Queen Freya, and Jessica Chastain as Sara. Of course, you have Thor on hand as the Huntsman, the most useless, banal role this guy has taken on in his mostly useless, banal career.

Despite all of this talent on hand, the movie largely consists of the two main villainesses talking all slow and evil, as if they were related to the elves from the Hobbit movies. Meanwhile, Hemsworth is garbling all his lines through some sort of Scottish accent. Note to directors: Hemsworth, from Australia, is capable of American and Australian accents. That’s it. Attempt other accents at your own peril.

The plot involves some sort of bullshit involving the magic mirror that allows Ravena to come back. Ravena takes the time to explain just how she came back, and how she’s only sort of dead, but not really. It doesn’t make much sense, even with her detailed, slow, deliberately paced explanation.

The movie actually starts years before the first movie, with Freya all excited about having a baby with some married dude. An unfortunate event inexplicably turns her into an ice queen, and she freezes a bunch of the countryside (echoes of Disney’s Frozen). The movie then jumps over the events of Snow White into a new, sequel-type adventure. So it’s a sequel and a prequel, all in one.

It’s unfortunate to see Blunt embarrass herself like this. She’s coming off the triumph of Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. Then again, Into the Woods sucked, too, so perhaps Blunt’s agents need to keep her far away from fairytale based films. Theron, who has an impressive track record, sometimes shows up in clunkers, so her presence here is no surprise, and should buy her another decent house. Chastain is clearly looking for a franchise, and she’s not going to get it here.

Hemsworth certainly has movie-star looks, and he’s perfectly fine when he’s playing exaggerated forms of himself. Beyond that, he’s possibly the worst actor on the planet when he has to do difficult accents and emote. If he’s not wielding Thor's hammer, he’s horrendous.

The lesson here, I guess, is that if you have Kristen Stewart in your movie, and she makes out with the director, don’t kick her out of your franchise; give her a raise! Christ, you are in Hollywood, so all bets are off as to who’s doing whom.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

For the second time within a year or so, a Gillian Flynn novel has been made into a movie. While David Fincher’s Gone Girl was a masterpiece, Dark Places, based on Flynn’s second novel, is bloody awful.

Even though Oscar-winner Charlize Theron is its star, Dark Places never rises above the level of a Lifetime movie. The storytelling is ham-fisted, and the stars, especially Theron, look absolutely lost. It also boasts shoddy production values that give off the vibe of a subpar episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit—and that’s a show I hate this much. (I have stopped typing, and I’m stretching out my arms, palms parallel, as far as possible.)

As with Gone Girl, Flynn’s story is inspired by real news events. Gone Girl was an obvious nod to wife-murderer Scott Peterson, while Dark Places draws its inspiration from ’80s and ’90s cases involving alleged Satan worshippers (including Ricky Kasso, as well as the Robin Hood Hills murders). Fincher took Gone Girl (with a screenplay penned by Flynn herself) and went for something darkly satirical and outrageous; meanwhile, director and screenwriter Gilles Paquet-Brenner plays Dark Places straight, with a far-inferior script.

Theron is Libby Day, a bitter woman who witnessed the murder of her mother and sisters when she was a child in 1985. Her brother, Ben (played by Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life in 1985, and Corey Stoll of Ant-Man in the present), is sitting in prison for life, based on her testimony. It was suspected the murders were fueled by Ben’s love for all things Satan.

Libby has been living off the spoils of unwanted celebrity, having received money over the years from sympathetic check-senders. The book she wrote, however, did not sell all that well, and the checks are drying up, so she’s a bit desperate. She gets a weird letter from Lyle (Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road co-star Nicholas Hoult), offering her a few hundred bucks to appear at a weird meeting for some sort of “murder club.”

The “murder club” is a sort of miniature macabre comic-con at which people dress up as murderers (yes, the John Wayne Gacy clown is in attendance), and people involved in infamous cases make appearances. Libby thinks she’s just a guest of honor, but soon discovers the murder club also looks to solve murders—and they believe her brother is innocent: They think Libby lied in her testimony. After being initially pissed off at this accusation, she joins forces with the club to solve her family’s murders.

The film becomes two stories in two different times, with Libby and the murder club investigating the killings in the present, and the actual build-up to the murders in the past. The 1985 cast includes Sheridan; Chloë Grace Moretz as Ben’s Satan-worshipping, cow-slaughtering girlfriend; Christina Hendricks as Libby’s noble mother; and Sterling Jerins as young Libby.

Paquet-Brenner doesn’t navigate between the two periods well, as his film features sloppy editing to go with some bad acting. While Hendricks delivers a decent-enough performance, the normally reliable Moretz goes overboard in her bid to be bad. Sean Bridgers plays Libby’s dad in both periods, and is trying to do his best Charles Manson impersonation. A scene Theron shares with Bridgers—whose character is coughing from progressive arsenic poisoning—is unintentionally hilarious.

As for Theron, she often looks confused and frustrated, as if she regrets taking the role. It’s very difficult to make Theron hard to watch, yet that’s what happens here.

Flynn didn’t have a hand in the screenplay; perhaps that’s one of the reasons Dark Places is so flat and putrid. Or perhaps Flynn only has one great story suitable for the movies in her—because this one is an undercooked dud.

Dark Places is now playing at the Ultrastar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430). It’s also available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in Reviews

George Miller has been trying to follow up Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for 30 years. He was all set to go with Mel Gibson in a fourth movie before setbacks.

Then, of course, Mr. Gibson said some very bad words, making him virtually unmarketable due to his temper and his generally poor outlook on things. So here we are, 30 years since Tina Turner put on that goofy wig and sang that lame song for Thunderdome. After a bunch of films involving talking animals (Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet), Miller is back in his post-apocalyptic world, messing around with fast rigs on desert landscapes. He also has a new Max—that being Tom Hardy. Charlize Theron is also along for the ride.

The results are a blast: Max Max: Fury Road is probably the franchise best when it comes to action. However, I prefer Gibson over Hardy for his Max portrayal. Hardy is good, but Gibson is the original and best Max—even if he is a total asshole.

The film starts off with a shot reminiscent of The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2)—and then it goes berserk. Max gets himself captured by a really disgusting-looking, villainous ruler named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and finds himself hanging upside down and providing blood for a pale, bald minion of Joe’s, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

Theron then shows up, head shaven, as Imperator Furiosa, a one-time loyal of Immortan Joe; she tricks him and kidnaps his wives, intent upon taking them to some sort of green promised land. When Joe figures out she’s making a run for it, his soldiers (who look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent) take off after her. This includes Nux—with Max strapped to the front of his car and wearing a face mask that reminds of his Bane getup in The Dark Knight Rises.

As far as plot goes, that’s about it. Theron and the wives try to drive really fast, and those pursuing her drive really fast, too. Along the way, they pick up a few other characters, and some folks get mulched under car wheels. You get the picture.

What makes Miller’s latest a cut above the rest is a major reliance on practical effects for the stunts. Sure, CGI shows up (and when it does, it’s very well done), but much of what we see is stunt people doing crazy, crazy things in front of cameras.

The folks who developed the look of this movie—from its terrific cinematography, to its costuming, to its incredible stunt work—all deserve praise and extra beers. The pounding soundtrack and the editing help make this a true pulse-racer. No matter how frantic the action gets, there’s a certain visual clarity to everything. It’s easy on the eyes, even when the edits are rapid.

Theron brings a nice bit of gravitas to this blockbuster. Sporting a CGI mechanical arm, face paint and a permanently stern expression, she is one badass rebel. While Hardy is fine in the Max role, the really great performance in this film comes from Theron.

Hardy actually spends much of the movie silent, especially in the early going. He looks great, even when he’s playing the part of a blood bag. Hoult actually manages to be quite moving under all of his makeup as the kamikaze who has a change of heart.

This is supposed to be the first film in a new trilogy, but it should be noted that Pitch Perfect 2 kicked its ass at the box office, so it isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Let’s hope that critical praise and word of mouth result in a healthy worldwide run for Mad Max: Fury Road. I want more.

Mad Max: Fury Road is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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.

Published in Reviews