Cards on the table: I’m a fan of Seth MacFarlane. I love “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” (although I could take or leave “The Cleveland Show”) and I thought “Ted” was a brilliantly profane and laugh-out-loud twist on both the magical childhood wish and romantic comedy genres. For his second feature effort, he’s set his sights on the Western and from the trailer, I had high hopes for the movie, even daring we might be about to get a 21st Century “Blazing Saddles”.
“A Million Ways To Die In The West” doesn’t even come close to Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy classic and unfortunately falls quite short of “Ted” too. It’s profane, provocative, offensive, scatological and utterly shameless in every way you’d expect but the rapid fire, scattergun approach to comedy which works adequately in a twenty two minute “Family Guy” episode feels strained and threadbare at feature length.
All the usual hallmarks of MacFarlane’s work are on display here: misogyny, racism, cultural and religious sterotypes but the structure is so uneven, it seems like the script was compiled to fit around a pre-exsiting list of jokes and funny ideas. As a result, while some of the film works as a cohesive narrative, others feel like a rapid fire sketch show threaded togather with a bunch of one-liners and throwaway visual gags. There are still plenty of jokes to be found and although the trailers give away most of the funniest material, you’d have to be particularly sour not to find something to laugh at.
MacFarlane is a likeable leading man, especially as the cowardly and not particularly likeable Albert Stark, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that as star, director, producer and writer, he’s stretched himself too thin and isn’t able to give his best to any of the roles. Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris provide amusing supporting characters but all three are operating from the very centre of their comfort zones here while Amanda Seyfried has little to do but pout and look pretty. Much more of a surprise is Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, who is brilliant as outlaw’s wife Anna Leatherwood. A million miles from her intense and controlled roles in other films, she is a relaxed and relaxing presence in this film, her sunny nature and comfortable sassiness making the movie a million times better whenever she’s on screen, she almost single-handedly saves the picture from disappearing into a quagmire of puerile gross out jokes and worn out Western clichés. There are also some great blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from the likes of Ewan McGregor and Ryan Reynolds plus a couple of others I won’t spoil here.
The modern sensibilities of the script jar a little with the more gently homespun western aesthetic with the result there’s so much profanity that it robs the swearing of any comedic impact when it’s needed. If you’re not a fan of Seth MacFarlane, there’s nothing here that will convert you. The humour is decidedly low brow and scatological, while the direction is flat and uninspired leading to a flabby and indulgent 116 minute running time, with too thin a plot to sustain it.