Well … shucks, nothing cinematically sucks more than a comedy that makes you yawn. A Million Ways to Die in the West will wind up being one of the summer movie season’s biggest bummers. Seth MacFarlane’s second feature directorial effort after the breezy and hilarious Ted is a lumbering, only sporadically funny enterprise. It’s not awful, and it does have its share of giggles, but it can’t be classified as anything near a good movie.
That’s a kick in the balls, because some slicker editing and “Whoa, Nellie!” pulling back on the gross-out reins could’ve kept this thing closer to 90 minutes, instead of nearly two hours, and gotten rid of the moments that go too far in a bad way.
Like Mel Brooks before him with the classic Blazing Saddles, MacFarlane tries to make a satiric Western that really looks and feels like a Western. He gets the shots right via decent cinematography, but his tempo is way off. While Blazing Saddles had the exuberance of a grand Western, MacFarlane’s dependence on comic violence and often slow pacing feels like he’s trying to make something like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in a funny way. It just doesn’t work.
MacFarlane plays Albert, a snarky, ahead-of-his-time sarcastic guy trying to survive in the great American West. He’s trying to make a go of it as a sheep farmer, but he’s terrible at it. (One of his animals constantly winds up on his roof.) He’s always getting into trouble with his wise mouth, and his inability to stand up for himself in manly gunfights has earned the ire of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).
After getting dumped, Albert is determined to win Louise back. Enter town newcomer Anna (a stunningly sweet Charlize Theron), who befriends Albert, tutoring him in the ways of women. She also must show Albert how to shoot a gun after his ill advised challenging of the evil Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Louise’s extravagantly mustachioed and arrogant new beau, to a gunfight.
Instead of going for something goofy with the Albert and Anna relationship, MacFarlane plays things totally straight and tries to make their budding romance “real.” This sort of thing is totally not at home in a movie like this. And, let’s face it, MacFarlane has his charms, but he doesn’t make for a likely romantic partner for Theron. They look unintentionally funny together, like Peter Brady trying to kiss Marilyn Monroe.
Liam Neeson appears in the thankless role of Clinch, resident killer and husband to Anna, unbeknownst to Albert. Neeson sneers his way through his role with nothing altogether funny to do, unless you regard the sight of him having a daisy shoved in his butt as funny.
A subplot involving a hooker (Sarah Silverman) and her virgin boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) is full of jokes too obvious and old for the actors to rise above the material, although they try hard. I did like the moment where Ribisi referenced his deranged dance moves from Ted.
MacFarlane overindulges, dragging out some gags way too long. For example, Neil Patrick Harris crapping in hats after ingesting laxative powder is kind of funny. Seeing the results of his accident spill out of the hat is a little much. As for the violence, the first few violent deaths get a laugh, but they grow tiresome fast.
So, MacFarlane’s attempt to emulate Mel Brooks has fallen flat. He has Ted 2 on the boards as a producing effort. He should just go ahead and direct, returning himself to familiar territories and recalibrating. If he were to, say, announce a Frankenstein or Robin Hood spoof in the near future, that would be a bad sign.