After “Ted”, a movie about an obnoxious talking teddy bear, earned just under $500 million all over the world, it probably became difficult for any movie studio to say no to Seth MacFarlane. So when MacFarlane walked into a pitch meeting and said, “Hey, I’d like to make a Western Comedy”, surely everyone in the room thought it was a fantastic idea.
It is not a fantastic idea. It’s not even a good idea. In fact, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is so disjointed, self-serving, and grotesque that any goodwill it earns for the few truly inspired and funny moments is thrown away moments later.
It makes sense for MacFarlane, who directed, produced, and co-wrote the movie with some of his “Family Guy” team, to make the jump to the screen and star in one of his own films. He plays Albert, an obnoxious know-it-all that seems to hate everyone and everything except for his shallow, airhead girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).
While Albert’s reasons for hating the frontier are all true and quite funny, the second extended sequence highlighting all those reasons goes into overkill territory and it quickly becomes highly irritating instead of funny.
The movie gets a relief from MacFarlane’s brutal screen presence when Charlize Theron’s Anna rides into town. Anna is married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), known as the most dangerous outlaw in the west.
One would think that a movie trying to spoof Westerns would create a fun and clever villain. Nope. MacFarlane seems to have missed the day in Comedy School that explained that comedic villains (a la Harvey Korman in “Blazing Saddles”) are supposed to be funny. In a movie filled with nonstop attempts at comedy, MacFarlane ignores the one role that should have been easy to comedically knock out of the park.
Anna helps Albert learn to fire a pistol, as he mistakenly challenges Louise’s new boyfriend, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), to a duel. Foy is a well to do owner of a mustachery, which is a store that sells fancy oils and creams designed to style a man’s mustache. There is a running joke about mustaches that, like many others in the movie, completely bombs.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” has a few scenes that are inspired and clever, most notably a scene involving Indians and an extremely funny conversation that takes place in their “native” language. There is also a very funny gag about how nobody smiles when getting their picture taken. These are moments that show promise and are smartly funny.
But then the rest of the movie happens. There is an animated sequence with MacFarlane that is a complete embarrassment. The sheer volume of gross out humor is overwhelming. There is a sequence that is a borderline career killer for Harris. It’s disgusting and shocking that Harris would even agree to do it.
There is little doubt that MacFarlane and Company went completely unchecked when making this movie.There are several moments that feel like they should have been outtakes and left behind in the editing room.
That is what happens when someone like MacFarlane is given free reign. This is an exercise in self-indulgence, from the movie being far too long to MacFarlane inserting himself as the film’s star.
MacFarlane’s Albert seems like you’re doing nothing more than watching him be himself in a Western setting. He rants and raves, hating everything that he sees, being pompous and acting smarter than everyone else. The act gets old very quickly.
If not for Charlize Theron, this movie is borderline unwatchable. She is so effortlessly charming, that even in this poorly written role, she excels. She doesn’t use her gorgeous looks at all in this movie and definitely needs to get involved in comedies that are much better than this.
There is a moment when she gives Albert a pot cookie that is so adorable that it makes you wish “A Million Ways to Die in the West” was written with her as the main role.
It’s impossible to feel anything but pity for Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, and Sarah Silverman. They are in roles that are so horrendous and one-note that it’s painful to watch. They are each trying so hard to be funny, but it’s like watching someone try to squeeze water from a stone.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is nothing more than a longer “Family Guy” episode and not one of the actual good ones. There is a forced musical number, enough potty humor to make even the strongest of stomachs turn, and a lead actor that is too smug to be entertaining. This vanity project should be so poorly received that it forces MacFarlane to retreat and stay behind the camera, where it is still debatable that he belongs.