Seth MacFarlane is in the saddle as lead actor, director, co-writer and even producer for “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” And that’s where the problem starts. MacFarlane’s style of comedy is so heavily immersed throughout the film that it feels like there was no one else involved to speak up to him and say, “This isn’t funny.” “A Million Ways to Die in the West” falls flat and brings little laughter.
MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who is seen by the town as a loser and a coward — so much that he is dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) in the first 10 minutes. Stark is a fast-talking, bumbling guy who hates the West and everything about it and just wants out. Things change when Anna (Charlize Theron) rolls into town and makes it her mission to help Albert get Louise back and (surprise, surprise) falls for him instead. Things get complicated, however, when known outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) arrives and turns out to be Anna’s husband, much to Stark’s surprise.
Now, the movie gets some points for trying to follow the genre of satire, but it fails at doing so. Because it just comes down to this: Seth MacFarlane is not funny. Sure, he might have some good set-ups, but the payoffs are usually disappointing or nonexistent. In this movie, MacFarlane follows the same comedic routine of telling a joke and then having three minutes of awkward dialogue explaining exactly why the joke is funny and why you should laugh. It’s pointless and often kills the joke that would have been fine on its own. This might be a tolerable movie if he was not cast in the lead — it might have even been funny if a well-seasoned comedian who understood satire and timing would have been cast instead.
But unfortunately, MacFarlane decided to star himself, and that man cannot act to save his life. He’s awkward during the funny scenes and lifeless when there’s drama. The other problem with the movie is that most of the jokes are hit-or-miss, with most of them falling flat. The majority of this movie depends on shock value and slapstick humor, and it just doesn’t work. Just because someone falls off a horse or gets punched in the face doesn’t mean it’s automatically funny. The same goes for poop jokes. Do we really need three minutes of Neil Patrick Harris taking a dump into a hat? Much of the movie is really dull, with a weak plot, an unfunny lead and just no situational humor to accompany the movie, mostly relying on predictable, cliched dialogue.
The few funny scenes might not be over-the-top hilarious, but they will give you a slight chuckle. These are rare, and none involve MacFarlane. The supporting cast, which includes Harris, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi are pretty good, and carry most of the movie and comedy that MacFarlane fails to deliver. There are also a couple of good cameos that were enjoyable, with Christopher Lloyd, Gilbert Gottfried and Ryan Reynolds being among the stars that occupy this movie.
The odd aspect of the movie is that it surprisingly looks really good. If you muted the movie and cut all the scenes with MacFarlane, this would be a different movie, one that looks and feels like an homage to a classic Western. There are countless beautiful pans and helicopter shots of beautiful views and landscapes around New Mexico and Utah.
Another thing that doesn’t fit into the same pattern as the movie are all the scenes involving Liam Neeson with Charlize Theron or the outlaws. These scenes are really grim and dark compared to the rest of the movie, as if it was interrupted by a serious Western that follows along the lines of “True Grit” or “Tombstone.” It’s weird, and another unnecessary element that doesn’t work for the movie. It just muddles the plot, and makes the movie feel like it’s constantly changing tones.
If you’ve seen the trailer to “A Million Ways To Die In The West,” then that’s all you really need, because almost every scene that’s shown in the trailer is all the humor you are going to get. There is one unexpected cameo at the very end that was surprising and pretty funny, but it’s not worth the 116 minutes that you have to endure. Overall, this movie is pointless, bland, riddled with cliches and just downright bad. The movie may have shown countless ways to get killed in the West, but by the end of the movie, you’ll be the one who will be dead with boredom.
Rating: 1 star