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A Million Ways to Die in the West

May 30, 2014

A week or two ago a friend of mine asked me why A Million Ways to Die in the West was even being made. After all, no one is familiar with the tropes of Westerns anymore because we simply stopped making them. Hell, last year’s terrible attempt to convince us to watch them again ended so terribly that people started debating the very concept of blockbusters and tentpole films.

Still, a lot of people I know remember Ted very fondly and I have enjoyed many episodes of MacFarlane’s television shows, so I figured A Million Ways to Die in the West would be a safer bet than Angelina Jolie cosplaying. When the film opens with a stirring orchestral score that just screams, “Hey, we actually enjoy Westerns!” I thought that I had made a wonderful choice. Then we move on from sprawling southwestern vistas to a bumbling monologue by Seth MacFarlane, who has taken a cue from the Adam Sandler school of film making by getting paid multiple times (because he writes, stars and directs) and then just standing in the middle of flatly angled shots while throwing out hacky jokes.

I will start by saying that using the term ‘joke’ is pretty generous of me. Out of the nine people who were in the theater while I was watching it only one person ever actually laughed, the rest were curt ‘hahs’ or soft chuckles. Most of the humor comes from sight gags, and MacFarlane’s incredulous response to the fact that before antibiotics were invented, people could die of wounds (which granted is the entire basis of the film but it wears thin within ten minutes). There are a couple of running gags that get referenced a few times but they’re quick catch it or miss it moments that aren’t designed to do more than get a soft chuckle anyway. The hardest laughs didn’t come from MacFarlane’s monologues at all but from Neil Patrick Harris’s physical comedy, a musical number centered around his character, and a blatant reference to his popular character Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother.

The plot is a standard paint by the numbers rom-com grafted onto a meh Spaghetti Western. MacFarlane plays Albert Stark a nerdy nice guy who is in love with an underdeveloped female character (Amanda Seyfried) who leaves him for the richest man in town/generic douche (Neil Patrick Harris). He then meets Anna (Charlize Theron) who gives him self-confidence and companionship but she’s actually married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) who is a badass gunslinger. Albert Stark has to pluck up the courage to fight Clinch in a gun duel and something something something, who cares? You know how he wins the duel in the first act and they feel the need to remind you how he’ll win in the second. There’s also some subplot about Stark’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) dating Ruth the town whore (Sarah Silverman being far less funny than usual, much like the entire cast) and trying to lose his virignity. By the time you meet all the characters, you know how the plot is going to work, and you stop caring because they clearly stopped caring.

Everything about this movie screams ‘lazy.’ When the jokes aren’t based on the concept of, “Wow, the past sure was different!” they’re just straight up racist for some reason. I don’t like to throw around accusations like that but there are a lot of lazy racist jokes in this movie. Hell, when the Indians make their inevitable appearance, since this is a Western, after being continuously referenced as savage boogeyman (with one joke clearly meant as a ‘don’t worry, the writers are liberals and we understand Injuns got a raw deal’) the word for “fine” in their language is “Milakunis.” The sets look pretty authentic, or at least they fit the tropes of a Western (as do the costumes) but then it all gets ruined by the fact that all the lamps are clearly bright white electric lights that provide nice even lighting to all the shots. It’s a microcosm of the sort of ‘almost there’ half-assedness that sums up the entire movie. Seth MacFarlane knows the tropes, he knows how to shoot it, and he knows how it should sound but he can’t ever be bothered to take it all the way home or keep the tone straight.

Some of the characters, namely Liam Neeson and his gang, deliver all of their lines with straight faces as if no one told them that they were in the middle of a comedy where at one point the main character eats a pot cookie. The rest of the film is done in a glib modern cadence that feels off when surrounded by good costumes and sets. Of course, that being the point of the movie I feel strange complaining about it. On the other hand, it would be easier to ignore this problem if every joke in the entire movie didn’t fall flat on its face.

There’s no reason to see this movie. Might I suggest that if you’re really looking for some good Western parodies, you check out The Three Amigos or the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles.

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From → Movies

One Comment
  1. jeff permalink

    Shut up, Meg.

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