In Seth MacFarlane’s second live action offering he plays a frontier funnyman who attempts to avoid the eponymous million ways to die in the West, including a particularly dangerous duel. Are MacFarlane’s jokes still killing it or is he firing blanks?
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Media Rights Capital, Fuzzy Door Productions, Bluegrass Films and Universal Pictures
I think it’s safe to say that Seth MacFarlane has brought us all a lot of laughs. While some may have fallen out of love with Family Guy recently or never cared for MacFarlane’s other humorous (and non-humorous) side projects, I have always been a fan. Sure, sometimes the humor was a little juvenile or appeared a little too racist or just didn’t really tickle me, but for the most part I have always enjoyed it. I enjoyed knowing that if I was bored or needed something funny to watch for a bit I could put on a Family Guy rerun, disengage my brain, and get a few chuckles. I think this applies to lot a people. So I was pretty disappointed when I watched A Million Ways to Die in the West and found about half of it not very funny.
Before I start to list the all of the things I disliked about the movie — and they are numerous — I’ll let you know what I did like. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot going for this movie, but one thing that did stand out was the acting. It’s not really too surprising considering the movie actually brings in a couple of heavy hitters. Liam Neeson and Giovanni Ribisi and Charlize Theron all do an excellent job of giving the movie some much needed grounding with their commitment to the world and their part in it. Sarah Silverman is…Sarah Silverman. It’s not a performance that will echo through the ages but it gets the job done. The same can be said for our main protagonist, Seth MacFarlane as Albert. The best compliment I can give is that, for the most part, he isn’t bad. Occasionally you’ll see a couple of weird faces or a wooden delivery but for the most part his acting keeps up and doesn’t grind things to a halt. There is one cameo in the middle of the film involving a certain other film that I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say that it filled me with joy.
The real standout for me is Neil Patrick Harris as antagonist Foy, owner of the local “moustachery”. I may be considered a little biased in this because I love everything the man has ever done but I do think he is the perfect amount of absurdity and cartoon evil. He is a modern day Snidely Whiplash; stealing the girl out from under Albert’s nose and delightfully mocking him while twisting his handlebar mustache. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Seth MacFarlane production without a song and I was pleasantly surprised to see the song given to NPH, a catchy little number about mustaches.
I do want to say that I enjoyed about half of the jokes in the movie but that leaves an awful lot of jokes that just fell flat. In my opinion the movie is best off when it goes for slapstick humor and recurring or callback jokes. Slapstick is done really well in this film with each fall and hit well timed and appearing truly painful. The jokes that have been set up beforehand or recur feel earned while a lot of one-off lines are just confusing or unfunny. There is also a fair bit of gross-out and scatological humor in this movie that just isn’t very funny. To be fair, gross-out humor isn’t my style but I enjoy a fart joke as much as the next guy and very little of it landed. For example, Seth MacFarlane’s character, Albert, explains how the conditions working in a mine take away a miner’s sense of taste and how that leads to them eating spicy food for every meal, ruining their digestion and making their farts deadly…then we cut to a random miner at a table who promptly farts and dies. That’s it. It just seems lazy.
I’m not going to say a lot about the jokes in the movie related to race . If you want to see a movie handle racial issues in a comedic way watch Blazing Saddles, it is infinitely funnier and every joke involving race plays on how stupid the racists are. A cameo at the end of the movie seems to scream, “See, our jokes aren’t really racist!”, but they still kind of are and it’s still not very funny. If you’re trying to make fun of racism in the Old West there are just better (and funnier) ways.
Overall, this movie is a bit of a mess. It’s filled with inconsistent jokes, a plot that wanders, and some sloppy writing in general. Two other screenwriters wrote the film along with MacFarlane and while I would like to be able to lay the blame at their feet a lot of what doesn’t work seems…MacFarlanesque? There are anachronisms and plot holes and they make the most badass woman in the West the damsel in distress for the last bit of the movie. And all of that might be okay if it were funny. But it’s not. If you want to see this movie, even if you think you’re the demographic they’re going for, I suggest waiting until this is on Netflix or Comedy Central or some other place you can see it relatively free.