A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth MacFarlane’s follow up to his 2012 hit Ted, is too much of too little. At 1 hour, 56 minutes it’s way too long for such a lackluster comedy. It’s too many jokes with too little substance, and too much talent with too little return.
In his on-screen acting debut, Seth MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer in Arizona. It’s 1882 and the American frontier is a grueling place. Albert surmises, that anything that is not you wants to kill you. Disease, hungry animals, outlaws, Indians; there are a million ways to die. To add to this strenuous and taxing life, Albert is failing as a sheep farmer and his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has dumped him. It’s then that the alluring and enigmatic Anna (Charlize Theron) befriends him shortly after her arrival in town. Incompetent with a gun and facing a showdown with a cattle farmer, Albert welcomes gunslinger Anna’s offer to help him learn how to shoot. Unbeknownst to Albert, though, is that Anna is married to the evil gunman Clinch Leatherman (Liam Neeson).
A Million Ways to Die in the West is a thinly veiled love story that serves as an avenue for what feels like a series of one-liners in a bad stand up comedy act. Most often MacFarlane and fellow screenwriter Alec Sulkin go for the easy jokes, and generally they aren’t ironic enough to be funny. Even worse, is the replaying of the same jokes over and over. A joke about a prostitute who won’t sleep with her boyfriend is funny the first time but not during the thirtieth same, if only slightly different, joke about it. Simply put, it doesn’t bode well for a movie when the best jokes are references to other movies and television shows.
Purportedly a huge fan of Westerns, MacFarlane, misses what is at the heart of those movies, heroes and justice. While MacFarlane does an acceptable job of conveying a sympathetic, lovelorn Albert, there is absolutely nothing that makes the audience care about their relationship, much less his quest to get her back. In addition, there is little clarity about what this movie is trying to accomplish. Is it purely a lighthearted comedy? Well, the jokes miss more often than not. With an appearance by Bill Maher, and MacFarlane well known for his liberal views, is the movie supposed to convey a deeper message about racism or death? If so, it’s lost in a morass of boring bits about mustaches and diarrhea. Lastly, MacFarlane is lucky to have a seasoned cast because his direction is almost nonexistent. The best thing about this movie is the breathtaking scenery, which MacFarlane does well to highlight.
Much like the Old West, Seth MacFarlane’s comedy has always approached new territory. He’s edgy and consistently ventures outside the norm of traditional humor. Who thought a television show with a talking dog, or a movie about a talking teddy bear could have been so successful? There is much to credit MacFarlane for. This movie is not one of them. Also released as an eBook in March of this year, I would venture to say A Million Ways to Die in the West is better as a novel as MacFarlane’s writing is concise, descriptive and does a better job of conveying its humor. My only wish is that he had taken the same care and transitioned the book into a concise and entertaining movie.