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A Million Ways to Die in The West Movie Review. A Seth McFarlane Story

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A Million Ways to Die in The West Movie ReviewSeth McFarlane has struck gold (or at least gold-plated) enough times for the Fox Network’s Sunday night animated line-up, that he appears to have a certain amount of carte blanche these days in developing his projects. The results thus far…have been mixed. Ted, a film about a sentient teddy bear smoking pot with Marky Mark, was a hit and even largely well-received by critics. Of course, with a talking teddy bear in the lead, Ted didn’t go too far off the cartoon reservation. On the other hand, McFarlane also produced the all live-action sitcom Dads for Fox and depending on who you’re talking to that show was either wholly unwatchable or such an unholy train wreck that you couldn’t look away until the network mercifully pulled the plug. Which brings us to A Million Ways to Die in the West, McFarlane’s foray into the comedy western genre previously occupied by films such as Blazing Saddles and that’s about it. With the bar set so high it’s no surprise few have ventured into this valley since, but McFarlane is nothing if not fearless, so it’s an interesting prospect.

A Million Ways to Die in The West
A Million Ways to Die in The West 1

In A Million Ways to Die in the West, McFarlane himself portrays Albert Stark, a frontier sheep herder who hates the frontier. After being dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for the smarmy local moustachery proprietor Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert decides to high tail it out of Dodge and head for the city, only to be detoured by Anna (Charlize Theron), a woman with a dark secret who befriends Albert and attempts to teach him the finer points of standing up for oneself to get what you want in the old west. Rounding out the cast are Sarah Silverman as Ruth, an extremely raunchy hooker with a heart of gold, and Giovanni Ribisi as her naïve and faithful beau as well as best friend to our hero, Albert. Liam Neeson, continuing his recent run of portraying everything everywhere, also makes an appearance as Clinch Leatherwood, notorious outlaw.

A Million Ways to Die in The West
A Million Ways to Die in The West 2Nothing McFarlane does here is too far out of his comfort zone, but his comfort zone is so broad that it isn’t much of a confinement. The idea seems to be to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. A lot of it does. The jokes come rapid fire and I have to admit I probably missed a dozen punchlines while laughing along with the audience at the screening I attended. Theron and McFarlane have an unlikely and pleasant chemistry and the entire cast really just seems to be having fun with each other (honestly, some of the scenes feel like they are riffing adlibbed blooper real outtakes, but it works), with everyone getting their chance to flex their comedic chops and making the most of the opportunity. Neil Patrick Harris probably deserves the highest accolades for getting the most out of an evil smirk here or a devious chuckle there. This is not his first venture into the absurd and you can see he is in his element.

The problem McFarlane seems to suffer from the most is sort of the same thing that makes him funny. He is unafraid to go anywhere the comedy takes him. Often times the payoff, while occasionally uncomfortable, is worth it. Other times, especially when it comes to the gross out humor of his work, McFarlane has a hard time pulling up before things get out of hand. The filthy hooker subplot is funny, but there’s really no need to overtly illustrate what’s already been so eloquently laid out on the screen. Everybody loves a good fart joke, but drag that fart joke out for a couple of minutes to end up displaying the fruits of that horrible labor and the whole thing just gets uncomfortable. Things that come across as gross, yet funny in the cartoon world can quickly become overbearing and disgusting when set to live action players. Mel Brooks understood that when he put to screen one of cinem’as greatest fart jokes, using little more than sound effects. McFarlane could probably use some help reigning in his comic whims from time to time.

While some of the humor missed the mark and the film suffers the same bit of midstream lag that many comedies do when the realize they should probably pay some lip service to the story, I have to say A Million Ways to Die in the West made me laugh out loud more than anything I’ve seen in the theater in a while and that is worth more than just about anything when it comes to comedy. Be forewarned, though, you will leave the theater with a song about mustaches in your head. I’m still not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but it’s definitely going to play in Movember.

A Million Ways to Die in The West Movie Review

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