Director: Seth Macfarlane
Cast: Seth Macfarlane, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and Liam Neeson
Plot: When Albert Stark (Macfarlane) loses his girlfriend (Seyfried), he challenges her new man (Harris) to a duel, despite being useless at shooting.
A Million Ways to Die in the West does its job, but little more than that.
As a story, it is pretty poor. It opens just like an old-timey Western with the main cast’s name is big, bold letters to a grand piece of scenery. From that moment onwards, I couldn’t escape the niggling feeling that there hasn’t been very many good Western movies out there in a while. That genre has all but died away and Western comedies end up depressing me, whenever I remember this. Whenever the fair or saloon is referenced, I just miss this forgotten genre. It doesn’t help that Seth Macfarlane does absolutely nothing new with the material. Macfarlane is here for the jokes and very little else. A lot of the time you realise that the Wild West theme is little more than a canvas for a couple of cowboy jokes he wrote one day. He sticks a by-the-numbers story into the mix and just breaks up proceedings with a couple of jokes poking holes at everything Western. While I came into the cinema expecting this, it slowed the film right down for me. About halfway through, you figure out every plot point this film has to offer and the only surprises in store are purely punch-lines. Basically, you end up hoping that the jokes are enough to keep you invested, because otherwise there isn’t really anything up for offer.
As a romance, it is also pretty lame. No one came to this movie to see a whimsical love story, but it really could have lifted proceedings. Wahlberg and Kunis were brilliant together in Ted, adding a little warmth to the whole affair. Here, the relationship between Albert and Anna is merely another compulsory plot point to cover. In fairness, Charlize Theron is not the problem here. She tries to coax a spark of chemistry out of Macfarlane, but the leading man just isn’t good enough for that side of the movie. Macfarlane is funny and as a comedian, he has brilliant timing. However, when he is asked to stop telling jokes, he is a very straight-faced and bland person. It was difficult to get behind him as a romantic hero, as he is only ever likeable through his sarcastic observations. It doesn’t help that Theron is basically a fancy damsel in distress. She might be the best shot in the entire movie, but she is still the wife of the bad guy and needs saving. I am pretty sure Theron could have killed Liam Neeson’s grizzled villain (Neeson, an actor without a comedy bone in his body), at any point in the movie, yet she still depends on Albert Stark to summon up the courage to come and rescue her. Again, on the whole, this is no big surprise. As mentioned above, Macfarlane only copies and pastes a Western story and adds the jokes in later; there is no new narrative twists waiting for us.
As a comedy, it saves itself. Barely. My issue with A Million Ways to Die in the West is that it isn’t as funny as it likes to think it is. I laughed a lot, true, but the ratio for jokes I didn’t laugh at were a lot higher. There were just so many gags thrown into the mix that I ended up chuckling quite a lot overall. Even my laughs weren’t belly-aching; I appreciated the jokes rather than being blown away by them. Ironically, the best jokes weren’t the ones that had a lot of effort put into them, but the more natural ones slipped into conversation. “Girls can live up to the age of 34 now; I don’t have to marry early.” The truth is that this is the same way I feel about Family Guy, but when an episode is slightly poor, there is usually a second one allow to sink my teeth into. It’s not just the length, but the actual experience of going to the cinema. It is expensive, usually takes a long drive to get to and is essentially an evening’s entertainment: simple things like that raises the bar. No one would go this far for an episode of Family Guy. Ted elevated itself to the level of cinematic quality, but A Million Ways to Die in the West simply doesn’t. Not that the jokes won’t make you laugh: some of them are brilliant. It is funniest when it references shows around it, like Family Guy and Ted. There is a cameo that will have the entire cinema in tears of laughter.
You won’t hate this film. There are enough moments of comedy brilliance to make this movie worth a watch, but there are rules to watching it. One, wait for it come out on DVD and watch it at home. Two, try watching it with your friends or with an alcoholic drink in your hand. This film is one for a Friday night with your mates. In short, essentially treat it like an overlong episode of Family Guy.
Final Verdict: Not quite awful, but without the Family Guy reputation, this would fade into obscurity. By the numbers and not as funny as Macfarlane’s usual material.