A Million Ways to Die in the West Director: Seth MacFarlane
Screenwriters: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson Universal Pictures
Rated R | 116 Minutes
Release Date: May 30, 2013
Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Family Guy) directs, produces, co-writes, and stars as cowardly sheep farmer Albert Stark in A Million Ways to Die in the West. After Albert backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for another man (Neil Patrick Harris).
When the mysterious and beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town, she helps Albert find his courage and they – of course – fall deeply in love amidst all the dick jokes. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw named Clinch (Liam Neeson), arrives seeking retribution, the farmer must put his newfound gunfighting skills to the test.
In 2012, when I reviewed MacFarlane’s first film, Ted, I said it was the funniest movie of the year. “I’m actually kind of ashamed of how much I laughed during it. I’m talking about doubled-over, insane laughter that could be (and probably was) mistaken for a hysterical screaming fit.”
And it’s true! I legitimately enjoyed Ted for its over-the-top absurdity and obscure references. So what if it was just a live-action Family Guy episode? It was still entertaining – dare I say wickedly entertaining (in a John Travolta voice) – to see a teddy bear hit the bong and watch Flash Gordon all day.
Unfortunately, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a horse of a different color. MacFarlane injects his sophomoric brand of lampoonery into the Old West with all the effectiveness of a tumbleweed wrecking ball. Maybe the Family Guy creator thought his film would be a Blazing Saddles for a new generation, but Seth MacFarlane is no Mel Brooks, and A Million Ways to Die in the West is just a flash in the pan – as tedious as it is contrived.
It takes a lot of confidence (or a massive ego) to make yourself the star of your own material. There have been plenty of filmmakers who have excelled at this – Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck – but MacFarlane doesn’t have the charisma or the technical chops to pull double-duty in front of and behind the camera.
The film only gets interesting when MacFarlane’s sheep farmer interacts with supporting characters like Sarah Silverman‘s hard-working hooker and her virtuous virgin boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi). It’s Charlize Theron, however, that proves to be the film’s real saving grace. MacFarlane has little personality and even less charm as the movie’s leading man, so it’s up to Theron to make his cowardly, irritating protagonist somewhat stomachable.
She succeeds by delivering the only unexaggerated, on-the-level performance in the entire film. It’s too bad her self-assured outlaw is relegated to being the battered wife of Liam Neeson or the sexy new love interest to MacFarlane. Of course, the only roles for women in A Million Ways to Die in the West are whores or girlfriends, so it’s not like there’s anything else for her to do.
The writing in this movie screams of vanity; Theron is constantly talking about what a catch MacFarlane is and how his ex-girlfriend is an idiot for dumping him. It’s almost as if MacFarlane’s sole reason for making this movie is so he could make out with Theron a couple of times.
What’s worse than MacFarlane’s egotism is that the movie just isn’t that funny. There are a few laughs during the film’s 116-minute runtime, but few are sustained. Recurring gags – like an ongoing joke about people never smiling in photographs – grow old quick. So does the shit-and-piss humor, like Neil Patrick Harris getting severe diarrhea and filling up not one but two bowler hats with watery excrement.
When it comes to the western-comedy subgenre, it’s hard to top classics like Blazing Saddles, Back to the Future Part III, Â¡Three Amigos! and City Slickers. A Million Ways to Die in the West is more like Your Highness with six-shooters instead of longswords. Beautiful western vistas, authentic sets, and period costumes in service of sexual innuendos may seem like a novel idea, but with MacFarlane behind the wheel it’s a monotonous romp through familiar territory.