A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
**1/2 (out of 5)
May 30, 2014
Seth MacFarlane as ALBERT
Charlize Theron as ANNA
Amanda Seyfried as LOUISE
Liam Neeson as CLINCH
Giovanni Ribisi as EDWARD
Neil Patrick Harris as FOY
Sarah Silverman as RUTH
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
On the whole, I consider myself a fan of Seth MacFarlane. I really enjoy “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” (though not “The Cleveland Show” so much), and a really had a lot of fun watching MacFarlane’s directorial debut “Ted.” I suppose I was looking forward to “A Million Ways to Die in the West” just a little too much for my own good.
This new film has a story – a tale about a cowardly sheep farmer (MacFarlane) who loses his girl (Amanda Seyfried) and ends up falling in love with a gunslinger’s wife (Charlize Theron) – though that’s really not the focus of the film. Instead, the movie is really a drawn-out stand-up routine in which MacFarlane and company rattle through iconoclastic jokes that destroy the romanticized version of the American west in cinema.
In fact, these jokes are so poorly woven into the story that they feel like late-night drinking sessions in which MacFarlane and his buddies got together to make jokes about how terrible it really was to live in the American west. There are literally several scenes featuring people sitting around and talking about these things.
This is where “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has its biggest problem. It’s lazy writing. Unlike the brilliant writing team that gave us “Blazing Saddles” forty years ago, MacFarlane’s team doesn’t weave their jokes into the script. Call it a remnant of the traditional “Family Guy” non-sequitur cutaway, though there are no actual cutaways in this movie. Instead, they just tell jokes.
Perhaps things would have worked better with MacFarlane serving as the narrator to bring those jokes to life rather than telling them to other characters. I’ve known a couple stand-up comics in my life, and I was always annoyed when they’d treat me like an audience, trying to work through their material on me. I felt this was what MacFarlane was doing to his entire audience rather than actually putting things through the script stage.
Sure, these jokes are funny, though unfortunately many of the funniest ones found their way into the trailers. I know that’s a cliche, but it tends to happen with many movies, and because many of the actual gags aren’t red-band material, they could be dropped into a general trailer. This, of course, makes these trailers pretty funny, but those jokes are predictable and lose their impact when you actually see them in the film.
Though the ultimate sin that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” commits is that it overstays its welcome. The running time pushes two hours, which is standard for a western but a bit long for a comedy. It’s not uncommon for comedies to struggle getting through a climax without sacrificing their jokes, and this did give “Ted” some problems near the end. However, “Ted” recovered nicely and made the story work. With such weak character set-up in “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” I couldn’t even feign caring about them enough to make it through that final 20 overlong minutes unfazed.
Yes, you’ll get some laughs out of “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” In fact, there are some great jokes buried in there, and if you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s in-your-face, frank, often overtly sexual humor, you’ll likely enjoy the film. However, this was a script that feels half-baked and poorly constructed, which results in a movie that never quite works.