Movie Review

Film Review: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014): A Witless Movie

liam neeson seth macfarlane charlize theron a million ways to die in the west

A Million Ways To Die in The West (2014Film Review, a movie directed by Seth MacFarlane and starring Seth MacFarlaneCharlize TheronLiam NeesonGiovanni Ribisi, Amanda SeyfriedNeil Patrick Harris, and Sarah Silverman.

There’s a scene in A Million Ways To Die in The West in which Neil Patrick Harris, portraying a mustachioed dandy, has a bout of uncontrollable diarrhea in a cowboy hat. Upon filling the hat with feces, he reaches for another gentleman’s hat, and proceeds to do the exact same thing. After a full minute of this, he puts the hat down and trips over it, spilling the chunky contents on the floor. Your reaction to the description of this scene is a good indicator of what you will think of the rest of A Million Ways. Personally, I reacted with a stone-faced glare.

Writer-director-star Seth MacFarlane had good intentions with A Million Ways. In the Old West, a time immortalized by the image of gruff badasses dueling at high noon, what was it like to be the average Joe that’s likely to fall victim to the countless other things threatening to kill you? Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is a wise-cracking sheep farmer in Old Stump, Arizona in 1882. When he backs out of a duel, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him, leaving him with no reason to stay in the West. After all, it’s full of exotic ways to meet your doom. But Albert sticks around a little longer when the mysterious and beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron) comes into town, and teaches him how to man up. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is married to the baddest gunslinger in the West, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). Dangerous misunderstandings and poop jokes ensue.

MacFarlane is a talented individual. As the creator of the overly-popular Family Guy and the under-appreciated American Dad, MacFarlane has shown instances of greatness and has proven that he can make really intelligent comedy. This makes A Million Ways even more disappointing, as MacFarlane appears completely tone deaf to what makes comedy work. There are three types of jokes to be found in this film: gross-out jokes, jokes about the Old West equivalent of modern things (“You shouldn’t drink and horse”), and actual jokes with setups and punch lines. The gross out jokes are just that – gross. Whether it be a close-up of a sheep’s urinating penis or a ten gallon hat filled with ten gallons of poop, these gags are gag-worthy. The jokes about the Old West work pretty well, but none are exactly gut busters. The actual jokes could work, but MacFarlane betrays them by removing all subtlety from the situations. Every joke follows this formula: joke, explanation of the joke, and then the joke again now that it’s been properly explained to you. This isn’t how comedy works.

Perhaps MacFarlane found himself hamstrung by the setting of his script. As anyone who watches Family Guy knows (or if you’ve seen his directorial debut, Ted), MacFarlane relies on pop culture references a little too heavily. With A Million Ways set in 1882, there’s no pop culture for him to reference. Actually, there is one rather brilliant moment in which MacFarlane gets to pay homage to a great 80’s sci-fi franchise, but even that scene goes on for a beat too long and ends up feeling awkward (not to mention the fact that the surprise of it has been ruined by all the previews).

The disappointments continue to pile when you look at this remarkable cast that MacFarlane has put together. MacFarlane plays Albert like he’s a stand-up comedian rather than a sheep farmer. You wouldn’t mind his quips if it weren’t for the fact that only 1 out of every 100 is chuckleworthy. Oscar winner Charlize Theron practices more restrained comedy, but doesn’t get to shine much next to MacFarlane who always seems to be cracking some joke. Oscar nominee Liam Neeson plays it straight as evil outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, making him not much more than an imposing presence. He does sport a rather atrocious accent that wavers all over the place, but MacFarlane assured me that this was on purpose (as a reference to a joke made about Neeson playing a cowboy on an episode of Family Guy). Then there’s Giovanni Ribisi, who is one of the most criminally under-utilized talents in the business, who gets stuck having to play this stiff, prim dork with not much to do except react to Sarah Silverman’s ridiculous prostitute character. Only Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris make the most out of their characters, but there’s so little there that it’s hardly memorable. Oh, and Amanda Seyfried is in the movie, too.

There are a few positives in A Million Ways that one must give credit to. There are a handful of jokes that land, but in a movie that runs almost two hours long, a handful just doesn’t cut it. Joel McNeely’s score is an earnest homage to the great Westerns of old, and as it runs over the opening credits it just might trick you into thinking you’re about to see a great film. But when it really comes down to it, A Million Ways is completely lacking in wit and subtlety, opting instead for obvious, Sandler-esque slapstick. The sincere love story at the center of the film is lost in a sea of fart jokes.

Rating: 3/10

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About the author

Nick DeNitto

Nick DeNitto graduated with Honors from Adelphi University. He began writing movie reviews in middle school and has worked tirelessly to mold his own unique critical voice. He is currently affiliated with the National Board of Review and hopes that one day he is remembered as “The People’s Film Critic.”

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