This Generation’s Blazing Saddles or a Two-hour Family Guy?
by Kevin J. Johnson
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is the sophomore (and sophomoric) directorial effort from animation impresario Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Family Guy), who this time brings us a comedy western in the vein of Blazing Saddles and Paint Your Wagon. MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer in Arizona 1882 that’s just doing the best he can to survive in the frontier town of Old Stump. But when he unknowingly falls for Anna, played by the charming Charlize Theron, Stark must contend with her husband Clinch Leatherwood, the most vicious gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson).
A Million Ways has a great ensemble cast with Giovanni Ribisi as Edward, Stark’s best friend, Sarah Silverman as Ruth, the town harlot and Edward’s fiancé, and Neil Patrick Harris as Foy, the mustachioed casanova that continually threatens Stark’s masculinity. Everyone gets one or two good gags; in fact, this film is as joke-dense as features from The Farrelly Brothers and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio. That being said, in the grand tradition of joke-a-minute comedies, there are smart jokes, dumb jokes, really dumb jokes and flat-out misses.
The humor in this film is culturally insensitive, and that’s the point. It’s Deadwood via Family Guy, with added raunch and urbane tendencies. It helps to have a thick skin and a strong constitution for the gross-out gags. The script, co-written by Family Guy alums Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin, is right in line with MacFarlane’s style of comedy: non-sequiturs, random gags, fun cameos, and jokes with deep set-ups and pay-offs. In the end though, there are just one too many misses. For each flash of brilliance, there’s a lazy saw-that-comin’-a-mile-away bit right behind it.
Still, the movie is lush with gorgeous cinematography from DP Michael Barrett, and a rambunctious hummable score from Joel McNeely. It’s a solid comedy, with enough belly laughs to get you past the dry gulches. MacFarlane is great at visual humor (and does a pretty good job at horse-riding), but is overly reliant on cheap, easy comedy. The racial/sexist humor is more obnoxious than eye-opening, but the film is funnier than most and sweeter than expected. When it’s said and done, MacFarlane avoids the sophomore slump.
Overall, I recommend A Million Ways to Die In The West. Fans of Seth MacFarlane or the Western genre will get an extra kick out of it compared to other moviegoers. See this at a matinee, or at midnight with a rowdy bunch, but like on a Tuesday or something. And stick around till the very end (as is the case with most summer flicks nowadays).