A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

Posted: July 3, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-posters-generalWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the entertainment juggernaut that is Seth MacFarlane. Whether it be producing a hit television series like “Family Guy” or “American Dad”, voicing half the characters on the aforementioned programs (in addition to cameos on other shows and films), or live performances such as hosting the Oscars, MacFarlane has proven himself to be one of the most multi-talented people working today. However, much as I respect the man for his obvious talent, and even enjoy watching him speak, I have mixed feelings about the projects where he’s in creative control. I don’t hate anything he’s done, but on average I’m just lukewarm about his stuff. This is one of the reasons I never got around to seeing Ted, MacFarlane’s directorial debut, a few years back, in spite of some positive word of mouth. I do wish I had however, particular as it would have given me more of a referrence point for the man’s sophmore effort, the Western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Set in the small town of Old Stump in 1882, the film follows Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), a sheep farmer. Stark is not a coward persay, but he doesn’t live up to the idea of an epic Western gunslinger. Stark hates life in the Old West, largely due to the infinite ways to die. His one consolation is his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), but even that is taken away when she leaves him for rich man Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Stark’s life does improve when a mysterious woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) befriends him, however what no one knows is that Anna is married to brutal gunslinger Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), who is coming to the little town bringing trouble.

With every comedy I’ve reviewed, I almost immediately go to the simple question; is it funny? With A Million Ways to Die in the West, that answer is occasionally. The thing about the film, and most MacFarlane comedies, is that they throw a ton of jokes at the audience. Some of these jokes hit, but a lot don’t. In the case of A Million Ways to Die in the West, the ration leans more to miss than hit. MacFarlane falls back on too much juvenille humour. There are tons of fart and shit jokes for example, as well as gross-out gags like a sheep dick peeing on someone. I generally hate this type of humour and a lot of the jokes here at their most juvenile. There are some jokes that do work however and MacFarlane even puts together a fun dance number, I just wish the momentum could have been kept up.

A lot of the film’s strongest elements actually come from the cast. MacFarlane has put together a cast of talented comedic actors like Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi. Neither are given great material to work with, but they do manage to bring out a fair amount of laughs. MacFarlane and Charlize Theron also have pretty good chemistry and Neeson is appropriately cast as a villain. I actually found the show stealer to be little known actor Christopher Hagen as Albert’s angery father. There are also a ton of cameos here which are often pretty funny, my favourite being Gilbert Gottfried.

Generally, when the laughs are lacking in a comedy, one can look to the other filmmaking aspects. Unfortunately, those are generally pretty poor here.The shots are very uninspired and production elements like costumes and art direction seem cheap. If you can afford first rate celebrities, you can afford more competent production. The story here is also pretty predictable and certain elements don’t work logically. Namely why doesn’t Anna just kill her husband since she’s shown to be extremely competent with guns and has plenty of opportunities. These problems wouldn’t be as prominent were the film funnier, so I had to look elsewhere for substance. On the plus side though, Joel McNeel’s score is pretty good at evoking an old school Western.

If nothing else, A Million Ways to Die in the West made me realize I was way to harsh on the film Neighbors a few weeks back. While that film isn’t very funny, it has other aspects such as a relatively strong story and filmmaking. Compared to A Million Ways to Die in the West, a very dumb film which also feels very cheap. There are enough chuckles and laughs here for this to scrap by without a failing grade, but by any objective standard, this is a bad movie.

C-

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It would have been a whole lot funnier, had MacFarlane not used the same jokes over and over again.

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