As a kid, I was never really into the whole “cowboys and indians” role playing. The closest I got to anything remotely cowboy would have to be watching the character Woody in Toy Story. Likewise, most of my pre-high school knowledge of the west came from playing an old computer game called The Oregon Trail. You make your way westward with your family in a covered wagon accompanied by some oxen that can’t seem to stop dying. The point of the game is to arrive safely (and with as many living people) to Oregon. But there are at least a dozen ways to die on the way, like a snake bite, dysentery, drowning or even a broken leg. I very rarely ever made it to Oregon alive, and when I did, I was usually the only one left. A Million Ways to Die in the West is like a trip on the Oregon Trail. It holds so much promise, but it is also filled with so many deadly obstacles, that if you haven’t already stepped in some shit then you’ll probably end up dying from an over abundance of it soon (dysentery).
This is Seth MacFarlane’s second feature film, and first one where he’s not a CGI teddy bear. He plays Albert, a very unambitious, overly self aware middle aged man who still lives with his parents. His girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) recently dumped him for a guy who doesn’t herd sheep, but instead sells mustache accessories, Foy (Neil Patrick-Harris). His regular day usually consists of ignoring his daily duties, drinking with his prostitute friend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) and her virgin boyfriend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), and making off-color (and often anachronistic) observations about his surroundings. This changes after being dumped and dropped into a great depression (not the economic one). That was, until he met out-of-towner Anna (Charlize Theron). She showed him that just because there are many ways to die on the west, there is also at least one way to live. Hold the cheesy applause for now because Anna actually belongs to notorious outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson), who is known for being deadly accurate with a pistol. An inevitable showdown must take place, and you better believe they’re going to try to squeeze as many jokes into the film before it is over with.
Seth MacFarlane’s humor is like a powerful shotgun. When it hits, boy does it pack a punch. This time, the shotgun was loaded with buckshot ammo, so with the sheer number jokes shot at us, some are bound to miss. Too bad most of them do. This is mainly due to the lazy script and joke writing. Ted was successful because of the concise script writing, not relying on what seemed like a slew of improvised humor in A Million Ways to Die in the West. The story was fine enough, but the jokes missed their mark much more often than they hit it, with improvised jokes that often run a lot longer than they have any right to. The few unimprovised jokes there were tried so hard to shock laughter out of you, that they just end up inspiring disgust instead of even a single chuckle.
The closest film you can compare it to would be Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Blazing Saddles is about as meta-cinema as it gets, but the reason its humor was so successful was the delivery. Blazing Saddles delivered their jokes in double entendres and innuendo’s, leaving the audience to arrive to the punchline on their own. A Million Ways to Die in the West favored a more artless, crass approach to punchline delivery, and more often than not the punchline was either penis, vagina, or at one point, sheep penis. It wasn’t all bad though, because the really good jokes ravaged you with laughter and left you in stitches. Not to mention a few choice cameos and a song that surprisingly doesn’t utilize the vocal talents of Neil Patrick-Harris or even Seth MacFarlane himself.
The very capable cast does their best with (what I’m sure was) what little script they were given, but MacFarlane just doesn’t come off as lead man material. He’s (usually) great at writing comedy, and can do voice work like a pro, but the same over the top voices and mannerism we have come to love him for don’t translate well on screen when they are visibly coming from a human. Also, his character’s (though it’s hard to say if he was indeed being anyone other than himself) self-deprecating humor and self-awareness bludgeons the fourth wall of film-making so hard that it nearly collapses. If that happened, at least we could stop pretending this was a film and treat it more like what it really is: An improv/stand-up comedy act at a western themed comedy club. With everything it does right, it does a million more things wrong, making A Million Ways to Die in the West just another casualty of the wild, wild west.
RATING: ★★★(3/10 stars)
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