A Million Ways to Die in the West
(116 minutes, Rated R)
Probably the most disappointing film of the summer thus far, A Million Ways to Die in the West feels like the overly eccentric egotistical Seth MacFarlane, who is usually funny, surrounded himself with a crew of ‘yes men.’ Everything about this western comedy feels rushed and forced, which is disappointing after his very funny directorial debut Ted.
This sophomore effort maintains the crude tone of the original, yet lacks the same polish and charisma. While I did not have a problem with MacFarlane’s acting, this overly long mess, which is limited to a chuckle-worthy affair, fails to exceed the highly criticized Family Guy humor; meanwhile, it seems surprisingly tame when compared to the boundary pushing Blazing Saddles or even MacFarlane’s previous works. Again, my negativity only reflects my disappointment; I staunchly defended this flick, as many naysayers wrote this off. And though I do not whole-heartedly agree with those that hate this type of humor, they were right about this unfocused western with an identity crisis.
The biggest fault of A Million Ways to Die in the West has to be its humor; the uneven script is a ‘hit or miss affair,’ with most of the jokes missing: even the ones that hit, like some of the clever one-liners, are only chuckle-worthy. It also does not help that the horrendous trailers ruined the funniest scenes. But that underlines the biggest question, would I have liked this if I did not see those awful previews: probably not. The rest of the picture suffers from some of the oddest choices. First and foremost, this could have been cut down to 90 minutes from its 116 minute runtime; there are countless scenes that are simply pointless or have nothing to do with the nearly nonexistent plot. Furthermore, these futile scenes are mostly unfunny and seem to linger way too long; nothing makes terrible humor worse then having it loiter for an additional thirty seconds.
MacFarlane must have really banked on some of these gags because the audience gets treated to the reoccurrence of some of the picture’s biggest misses: for instance, his terrible dad or Silverman’s vulgarity are consistently boring throughout. And MacFarlane’s biggest problem is his constant vulgarity; I do not have a problem with so-called ‘tastelessness,’ but being vulgar for the sake of it tends to hinder satirization. From several interviews, the man has proven that he is quite smart; yet, the shock value of crudeness gets old and eventually hurts the impact of a decent attempt at satire. For instance, the reoccurring dick and fart jokes encumber some quality jabs at religion.
Now, if the crudity was more than ‘dick and farts’ and pushed certain boundaries, vise vie Blazing Saddles, then perhaps this would have been critically accepted; however, this movie surprisingly feels tamed compared to other MacFarlane projects. Yes, you do not want to see this with your parents, but with the amount of freedom given to the director/writer, the whole picture reeks of a squandered opportunity. On top of this, A Million Ways to Die in the West cannot figure out if it wants to be a parody of the western genre or a seemingly smart film with themes that resonate today.
With that said, this identity crisis problem is seen throughout the script, which suffers from consistent tonal issues. The aforementioned nonexistent plot trudges through scenes that do not really belong together; almost like everything was shot individually and then given a common ending in the editing room. Perhaps the weak plot was designed just to get from joke to joke, but with the humor failing, there is nothing holding this together. Furthermore, the consistent misses remind the viewer that he or she has zero connection to the hero or the supporting characters. And this gets further emphasized when the last thirty minutes become oddly serious; the already violent flick divulges into utter chaos, which continues to worsen until its over-simplistic climax. Ultimately, the Family Guy creator threw way too many things into A Million Ways to Die in the West and there was no one there to stop him. This heaping mess of a script needed to go through a few more drafts before being put on the big screen.
Even the characters, which should have been the highlight, become annoying and act against how they are established. For instance, Anna (Charlize Theron) who is this badass chick throughout becomes a damsel in distress for the last twenty minutes: for no other reason than the need to have MacFarlane’s Albert as the hero. And for a movie that boasts a huge cast, it seems to waste almost every single person. The only marginally funny role belongs to Giovanni Ribisi’s Edward who perfectly plays the naïve virgin for laughs.
But everyone else is underutilized; Theron who is extremely charming with a vulgar tongue, gets limited by the script. And her so called counter point, Amanda Seyfried’s Louise, has nothing to do but stand there and look pretty: which is ‘sort of’ how Louise is written, but then how did MacFarlane convince Seyfried to do this? Or better yet, how did he convince any of these stars to be apart of this egocentric disaster? For instance, the movie’s antagonist, Clinch (Liam Neeson) and Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), feel like cardboard cutouts that belong on a Saturday morning cartoon: Harris even has the ridiculously long moustache to evilly twirl.
Meanwhile, all this boils down to MacFarlane’s rodomontade; this gigantic western playground was made for him to look like the triumphant hero. While his acting is not as bad as the media has led on, he still does not have the leading charisma to carry A Million Ways to Die in the West. But then again, no one could have carried this dreck. To be honest, the only good thing that came out of this sophomore effort is that the director’s love for westerns results in a gorgeous production design; he will not win any awards for directing, but he sure knows how to imitate films that beautifully capture the west.
Again, this will probably be the most disappointing flick of the summer; even the cameos, at least the ones that were not ruined in the trailers, felt forced and unfunny. I expected the off the wall humor of Blazing Saddles and instead I received a vulgar fan film with no direction. And while this latest attempt had a lot of hype, it never amounts to anything more than crude humor blinded by the director/writer/star’s overly ambitious need to promote himself. In the end (and speaking as a fan myself), I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone.