SYNOPSIS: Set in Arizona’s wild west, McFarlane is Albert, a mild mannered sheep farmer who hates the frontier. “It’s a disgusting dirty place,” he says, “a cesspool of despair.” The despair of his day-to-day life is compounded when his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him and takes up with a wealthy owner of a moustache grooming shop (Neil Patrick Harris). He finds love again with a mysterious stranger Anna (Charlize Theron), who helps him cope with dangerous frontier life and grow a backbone. His newfound courage is tested when Anna’s husband, outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson) rides into town.
Richard: 3 Stars
Steve: 2 Stars
Richard: Steve, I laughed at A Million Ways to Die in the West, but strangely enough, I was hoping to be more offended by it. Each week on his show Family Guy, Seth McFarlane manages at least one joke that makes me cringe. I expected him to push the envelope even further for the big screen. Sure there are some wild and crazy jokes here, but they’re at the level of Judd Apatow, not McFarlane. Was it outrageous enough for you?
Steve: It is outrageous but the brazenness in McFarlane’s big-screen sophomore effort is buried beneath more juvenile gags involving bodily gases than the off-kilter comedy his show or Ted succeeds with. Perhaps by covering off all areas of writing, directing and then hiring himself as the lead, McFarland suffers from an inability to self-edit. Speaking of, what do you think of McFarlane as leading man?
RC: I do find him funny, but I can’t help but hear Peter Griffin in his voice and I find that distracting. His part is basically one joke. He’s the fish out of water who speaks like a twenty first century smart aleck. For instance, as people around him are killed in increasingly wild ways—hence the movie’s title—he observes, “We should all just wear coffins for clothes.” It’s a good line, but his overall performance is more Bob Hope than John Wayne.
SG: It’s true but, in this, McFarlane seems to think his gags are more brilliant than they actually are – as if audiences haven’t seen an explosive diarrhea gag before. That said, when he pushes social mores, he goes for the jugular focusing most notably on historical racism. It comes off for some uneven narrative. It’s a good thing he surrounds himself with a solid supporting cast.
RC: Comparisons to Blazing Saddles are inevitable. Both movies have social commentary mixed with cringe worthy gags—some may literally make you gag—but A Million Ways to Die in the West doesn’t have the satiric subtext that made Mel Brooks’ movie great. McFarlane relies on anachronisms and shock value jokes to raise a smile, and spends too much time on the love story. Brooks went for the jugular, and forty years on it’s still funny and edgy. A Million Ways to Die does have at least one classic moment that will appeal to everyone over age 30 and the most undignified duel ever, but it doesn’t have much resonance.
SG: It doesn’t have much heart either. Although Charlize Theron does a stalwart job playing the romantic interest against McFarlane’s spineless pessimist, the filmmaker’s ceaseless determination for punchlines only undermines the film’s attempt at circling back to an earnest love story. In that respect, it lies as lifeless as the film’s many, many corpses. And that includes the western town’s unnoticed, three-day dead mayor.