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A Million Ways to Die in the West – Movie Review

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A Million Ways to Die in the West – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

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Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humour may not be for everyone, but he’s certainly unafraid to take on certain targets. With his jump to feature directing, he’s now allowed to go as far with his humour as he can and without the fear of the television censors taking out their scissors. The most surprising aspect and biggest strength of Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West is the genuine heart in their stories, an element not often seen on Family Guy. However, the humour remains unchanged from his cartoons and how one feels about his latest effort will depend on how you can take that type of dark comedy. Running at almost two hours, A Million Ways to Die in the West especially threatens to run out of steam long before the end credits roll.

When the movie begins, it’s immediately evident that MacFarlane is a huge fan of classic westerns. With the appropriate credits font and rousing score by Joel McNeely, it’s obvious the works of John Ford have been thoroughly studied. Take out the foul-mouthed humour and this could pass for an old-school 1950s western. Even the sets seem reused from somewhere on the Universal backlot. On the other hand, the comedy is rather hit-or-miss, mostly miss. A lot of the humour revolves around obvious scatological humour and it’s easy to lose count after the fifth feces joke. One diarrhea-related joke seems straight out of Family Guy with the way it goes on forever with no sign of stopping. A potentially inspired subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi having a sex-free romance with a prostitute never really takes off, despite her being played by the usually biting Sarah Silverman. Some of the better jokes relate to MacFarlane’s cowardly sheep farmer trying to survive life in the Old West and some inspired cameo appearances, but there are large gags where nothing funny emerges. The motto during the script-writing process was likely “When in doubt, throw in a swear word or penis joke.” Some more intelligent humour would have gone a long way to improving the screenplay, though biting satire is not what comes to mind when I think of Seth MacFarlane.

Where A Million Ways to Die in the West mostly shines is in the chemistry between Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron. MacFarlane proves to be a charming leading man and the romance that grows between the two of them is very heartfelt. It’s difficult not to root for them and it’s nicely developed. Whether it’s Brian and Stewie’s buddying friendship on Family Guy or the romance with John and Laurie in Ted, his strength appears to be in writing relationships. While crude humour is where his interest lies, I would like to see him direct and write a lighthearted romantic movie one day. Another one of MacFarlane’s best assets is his songwriting skills. Even at its most uninspired, Family Guy produces some excellent tunes and musical numbers and Ted’s anthem “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” is one of the best movie songs of the last decade. Owing to his love for old-school music, there are a fair share of those during A Million Ways to Die in the West. A square dance about moustaches is one of the film’s highlights and as one character later states, it will be difficult to get it out of your head. The title song, which plays during the end credits, is incredibly catchy and the lyrics are funnier than a lot of the other dirty jokes heard during the preceding hour and fifty minutes.

Speaking of the runtime, Seth MacFarlane should have sent this back to the editing suite. While it moves at a decent pace in the first two acts, it starts to overstay its welcome at the home stretch and a good twenty minutes could have easily been cut out. A storyline involving Liam Neeson’s outlaw cowboy chasing after MacFarlane feels tacked on and a hallucination scene also adds very little to the plot at large. Not that story is one of the film’s strengths, as it does feel like a series of sketches at times. Even Ted had more of a narrative, though the cutaway gags so prominent on Family Guy are mostly non-existent in his two features.

Seth MacFarlane is a talented individual, even going back to his storyboarding days at Hanna-Barbera. However, his shock humour for the sake of shocking can only go so far before it gets tiring. Ted was a step in the right direction with its sweet underlying message making up for the one-joke premise, but A Million Ways to Die in the West is too long and the comedy too sparse to leave much of an impact. Even the sweet romance that bubbles up isn’t enough to take away from the mostly wasted potential of the setting. At times, it even seems surprisingly restrained and I wished for MacFarlane to go more nuts, like what Mel Brooks did with his own western comedy Blazing Saddles. And after watching this attempt, what I mostly wanted to do was watch that satirical masterpiece again. Even after the fiftieth viewing, the entirety of Blazing Saddles is still funnier than large chunks of A Million Ways to Die in the West.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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