Published on June 6th, 2014 | by Curtis Mayfield
A Million Ways to Die in the West – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on June 4th, 2014
Universal Pictures presents a film by Seth MacFarlane
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris and Amanda Seyfried
Music by Joel McNeely
Cinematography: Michael Barrett
Editing by Jeff Freeman
Running Time: 116 minutes
Release Date: May 29th, 2014
Seth MacFarlane takes his offbeat humour into new terrain with an attempt at making a Western with A Million Ways to Die in the West. After Quentin Tarantino threw his hat in the ring of cowboy films with 2012’s Django Unchained MacFarlane is now walking the same path but sticking to his own off-colour roots. Set in the fictional town of Old Stump, Macfarlane plays Albert Stark, a bumbling sheep farmer who struggles with all things 19th century, namely, drinking, dancing, sheep farming, the ladies, and especially shooting. The latter is what gets Albert into trouble the most as the opening scene shows him talking his way out of a gunfight in front of the whole town. This makes his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) think twice about their relationship as “most people are living to thirty-five now” and prospects are looking better for her. Louise ends up leaving Albert for the town’s “moustachary” owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).
Stark begins to vent all the frustrations about living in the American frontier to virgin friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his Christian prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman). Stark’s rants are some of the movie’s best comedic moments. His protests against living in the dangerous Wild West allude to his character’s entertaining self-awareness: he knows there’s a better standard of living but doesn’t quite know what that is. “Everything that isn’t you wants to kill you!” Stark yells as wolves drag away the town’s mayor to nobody’s surprise.
Meanwhile amongst all the comedic death infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) is on the run from the authorities and decides to send his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to hide in Old Stump under the ruse that she’s a new farmer to the town. It’s not until Stark meets Anna does he begin to see worth in himself and in the way of living in the West. Theron’s character echoes Stark’s throughout the film, with the two main characters giving their take on how modern minds would have dealt with the rough and tumble not-so-distant past. Anna eventually takes pity on Albert and decides to teach him the art of shooting. The banter between these two characters is quite hokey and will make viewers cringe until the next outrageous joke comes along. The film also manages to poke fun at 21st century life in the process with the townspeople expressing concern with children’s attention spans shortening because they’re playing too much “stick and hoop”. Diehard fans of MacFarlane’s earlier works like Family Guy and Ted will more than likely enjoy this movie but you will be hard pressed to find others who can look past the fart jokes. The ‘gross out’ moments increase vehemently in the second half of the movie, which makes you wonder if MacFarlane can do better than this. Disappointingly, A Million Ways plays out more like a spoof film rather than an original story.
Some of the downsides here is the narrative’s pace is a little jerky and too much reliance on slapstick and gross-out comedy as opposed to the witty dialogue Seth MacFarlane fans know he’s capable of producing. Topping Ted was always going to be a tough hill to climb. While Ted provided pop culture with an iconic character to quote and admire A Million Ways to Die in the West doesn’t give audiences an idol in any form. All the characters fall flat of reaching this feat.
Although Theron tries her best to keep up she is outshined by comedy veterans Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Silverman. The role of Foy is put in the perfect position as we don’t get too much of his silliness but just enough to be wanting more. MacFarlane’s delivery as an actor is spot on and hilarious. One standout scene has Stark and Edward observing a large block of ice on a pulley being held up by several men when a rope breaks and a man is crushed to death. The humour sounds twisted because it is and for the most part MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild pull it off.
A few cameos throughout the movie work as a tip of the hat towards other prized western films but at the risk of spoiling the surprise these small parts will go unexplained. From the amazing cinematography to the costume design A Million Ways to Die in the West, for all intensive purposes, is a decent worship of Western films. It’s obvious that MacFarlane is both taking the piss out of the late 1800s but also paying homage to a loved genre of film. The heap of humour thrown at the audience covers the overall flaws of the movie so you’ll be too busy laughing to care.
Summary: The heap of humour thrown at the audience covers the overall flaws of the movie so you’ll be too busy laughing to care.