I’m about to enter territory that I usually only have to enter when discussing lesser Adam Sandler movies. Seth MacFarlane‘s A Million Ways to Die in the West, I’m faced with admitting to laughing at a film way more than I should have. In just about every way imaginable, this is a step down from Ted, but at the same time, I basically giggled my way through this one and had a few big guffaws, so when discussing a comedy, isn’t that what it’s supposed to do? Ted was hilarious, yes, and while A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t, it’s still very amusing, lowbrow as it might be. MacFarlane doesn’t make nearly as good a use of his cast this time around, wasting the likes of Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson while showcasing himself in a lead role that would have been better served by someone else. His performance is forgettable and his direction won’t remind anyone of Mel Brooks and Blazing Saddles, but he has enough funny jokes in the script to make this work. Ideally I wish there was a middle ground between two and a half and three stars here, but since two and a half isn’t a recommendation and three is for me, I’m going with the latter. A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t a particularly “good” movie, but it is an amusing one and likely to entertain folks who are looking for some raunchy laughs.
Set quite obviously in the American west of yesteryear, our hero is cowardly sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane). We meet him in the midst of chickening out of a duel, shortly followed by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumping him. She’s traded up for Foye (Neil Patrick Harris), leaving Albert to mope with his virginal best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman). Life perks up though once the mysterious Anna (Theron) comes into town. She takes an immediate liking to Albert and their friendship begins to make Louise jealous. Albert begins to become a bit more confident, when not going on and on about how many things in the west can and will kill you, and challenges Foye to a duel. He’s got bigger problems though, as he’ll soon learn that Anna has a husband, and that husband is the notorious gun-fighter and criminal Clinch (Neeson). Albert may be on the verge of discovering a whole new way to die in the west.
It’s clear that the cast is having a real good time here, even if the majority of them are shortchanged. The exception is Seth MacFarlane, who gives himself far more screen time than was actually necessary. His character is the one who most seems out of place in the period, and while that’s sort of the point, it’s also not as funny as he probably thinks it is. Also, MacFarlane is only an average actor, so it’s not exactly an overly compelling performance that we’re witnessing. The rest of the cast is more expressive than McFarlane, but by and large they don’t get nearly enough to do. Charlize Theron has her occasional moments, but she’s mostly wasted, with the same being said almost entirely for the talented trio of Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, and Sarah Silverman. Giovanni Ribisi is a generic sidekick of sorts, while the likes of Alex Borstein, Ralph Garman, and Wes Studi pop up briefly to tell a joke or two and be on their way. Honestly, best in show is Neil Patrick Harris, who gets to have some real fun here. Aside from him, the best moments go to various cameo performances, which I won’t spoil here. Stay for the credits though, since there’s a fairly clever cameo that might have been my favorite moment of the whole film.
I think we were all pleasantly surprised by MacFarlane’s writing and direction last time out with Ted. Here, he’s not exactly challenging himself, though I will say that for the most part this is a good approximation of what a western looks like. The script, co written with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, has more than enough jokes that work for me, but there’s a few that land with a thud as well. MacFarlane really could have used a tougher editor though, since as the director he allows the movie to go on for nearly two hours. Had it been any longer, I think it might have tipped the scales down toward the two and a half rating.
There’s not a whole lot for me to say about A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s funny, incredibly dumb, and likely will amuse MacFarlane’s fans. I laughed way too much not to give it my recommendation, but keep in mind that I’m not vouching for it as a quality film, so much as saying that I personally found it to be pretty funny. Especially if you keep your expectations low (Ted, this is not), A Million Ways to Die in the West should be a worthwhile comedic experience for you all.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!