A Million Ways to Die in the West opens up and sets the stage as what seems like an epic western. This is a Seth MacFarlane film so of course this isn’t going to be an Outlaw Josie Wales kind of thing but more of a comedic romp with the whole western theme serving as more of a backdrop and vehicle for MacFarlane’s humor…
The film starts with MacFarlane playing Albert the farmer who isn’t known for his gunfighting or ass-kicking qualities. He’s more of a peaceful gent whose wife loses respect for him and leaves him for a more successful, assertive alpha male in the form of moustachery store owner Foy (portrayed by the always-awesome Neil Patrick Harris). To win back his wife, Albert challenges Foy to a gunfight only to learn that he has no gunfighting skills and has basically signed his own death warrant. In order to prepare for the fight, Albert enlists the help of town newcomer Anna who has some skills of her own due to her shady past which eventually catches up to her and MacFarlane.
So part of the gag here and the running joke to the film is that everything in that old west time can kill you: disease, bad meat, crazy people, villainous gunfighters, a paper cut, etc. The gag eventually loses some steam though as the repetitive exclamations of the things that can kill you gets a little old after awhile. Let me point out that I am a MacFarlane fan – I enjoy Family Guy, American Dad as well as the movie Ted. I dig Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor, but I think it falls a bit flat in this film. There are moments of clever humor but there’s also some of the more cartoony / exaggerated humor in here as well but it doesn’t always translate effectively. For instance, there’s a moment where a giant block of ice crushes somebody; unfortunately it was supposed to be funny but it comes off in a more serious tone which of course kills the joke and creates more sympathy than laughter.
Another issue interfering with the humor is the dialog. The film seems to have a bit of an identity problem where some characters have an old-school western twang that is somewhat authentic to the time period and some don’t. As a result there’s a weird blend between traditional and contemporary dialog, only a few characters speak old-school western like Liam Neeson’s bad guy Clinch and Giovanni Ribisi’s Edward. Most of the rest of the people in the film use the same vernacular that is used today so it makes for an odd exchange of dialog that throughout the course of the film creates a distraction from whatever the joke is supposed to be about at the time. This doesn’t happen all the time but when it does happen, it pulled me right out of the film and made me think about it.
As much as I wanted to like this film I have to say it was pretty clunky and inconsistent in terms of delivery. Sometimes it’s a slapsticky Airplane/Naked Gun/David Zucker kind of film and at other times it’s trying to be something else that I was never quite sure of. The lineup of talent includes Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Alex Borstein and the hilarious Sarah Silverman.
reviewed by Sean McKnight