Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West is supposed to be a Western. It has a number of Western icons: A fractured hero, vast desert landscapes, muddy paths that separate shoddy town houses, a train, gunfights, horses, men riding horses, men riding horses while gunfighting. But it is not a Western in the traditional sense. In fact it lacks any sense at all. It’s more like one of those medieval reenactments at the Renaissance Fair, except the fair is dressed to look like the Old West, and the people at the fair have forgotten their characters.
This is a tasteless movie in the same way that The Love Guru or Dirty Love was tasteless. MacFarlane is a truly gifted man. His long-running TV cartoon, Family Guy, has garnered a tremendous following, and he holds the coveted triple-threat degree; he can act, dance and sing. He can mutate his voice and produce stunning variations (a number of his Family Guy characters are voiced by him). There is intelligence and a knack for blissful comedic timing in that mind of his, but you’d never guess it by watching A Million Ways. When a beautiful lady places a daisy in between her unconscious husband’s bare butt cheeks, you’re pleading for a laugh that will never come.
What we have here is an expert exercise in self-service, with the fruits being rotten and the taste sickly sour. MacFarlane wrote, produced, directed, and starred in this film, which is a mammoth undertaking. Something must have told him that it’d be a good idea — maybe his sheep. Someone must have embraced him with a chuckle and endorsed the project — maybe Stewie Griffin. And so it goes. MacFarlane writes a Western that’s not really a Western, with characters who are not really characters, speaking lines that are not fit for the time, with jokes and gags that are about as amusing as sticking your hand into a blender.
Farts are referenced more times than I care to count. A man’s head gets smashed by a big block of ice. There are bountiful penis, vagina and rear end jokes — at one point the Neil Patrick Harris character poops his load into a couple of bowler hats, and then, unfortunately, we get a glimpse of what’s inside. And in what I might classify as unorthodox animal pornography, there’s a shot of a sheep’s penis as it begins to urinate on the MacFarlane character. The poop joke had a better punchline.
MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a lowly sheep farmer whose sheep “are everywhere”. One of them has a relationship with Albert’s roof. Albert is duly dumped by his pretty girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), for being a nobody, and is later romantically acquainted with an even prettier girl named Anna (Charlize Theron), who strides into the film as the adulterous wife of an outlaw who goes by the name Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).
Anna spends a tedious amount of time reassuring Albert of his charm and potential, and helps prepare him for gunfights by working cliched target practice scenes. He asks her why she’s so interested. We are eager to ask her the same question. We’re just unsure if she can provide an answer.
Louise, meanwhile, has moved on to a man named Foy (Harris), who owns a Moustache Club and gets aroused when his facial hair is fondled. Much of A Million Ways’ first half is dedicated to Albert, Anna, Louise and Foy playing all sorts of immature mind games with each other, none of which amount to anything more than a washing line of lame one-liners and awkward exchanges.
There’s a light reprieve in the form of a cute Christian couple who wants to hold sex off till after they’re married. The joke here is that the girl, dutifully played by Sarah Silverman, is a prostitute; she creates a comical juxtaposition between her obligatory duties in the brothel and her romantic duties in the bedroom. It works, though, because both Silverman and her boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) take the comparison in their stride. Other than this, A Million Ways is a discomforting movie. It’s agonising to sit through a comedy that’s not funny. It’s even more agonising when its components promised so much. I was waiting, long and hard, for MacFarlane to slip in an anachronistic pop culture reference. The film was begging for one. And then boom — he delivers by converting a Muslim prayer into Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy”.
Best Moment | Ryan Reynold’s cameo. Because he gets shot.
Worst Moment | The poop. The sheep’s penis. The dancing sheep. And pretty much everything else.