A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

By Gary Murray

Starring Seth MacFarland, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson

Written by Seth MacFarland, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

Directed by Seth MacFarland

Running time 116 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating Matinee

 

There is a long history of Western comedies.  Films such as Blazing Saddles, How to Support Your Local Sheriff and The Shakiest Gun in the West are just a few of the Western comedies that have been on the silver screen for over the decades.  Like the Western itself, the genre has been almost lost in the 21st century.  Seth MacFarland, the mad genius behind Family Guy on television and the movie Ted has taken the genre and given it a new spin in A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Albert (Seth MacFarland) is a simple sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona, a harsh and barren landscape.  He is a rarity in the West, a reasoned man.  Where everyone solves disputes through the barrel of a gun, he tries to find a rational solution.  Albert is in love with Louise (Amanda Seyfried) a doe-eyed girl who doesn’t seem to respect a sheep farmer.  She dumps him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) a rich businessman with a fancy mustache.

On the other side of the story is Anna (Charlize Theron).  She is the wife of bad man Clinch (Liam Neeson), a desperado who shoots before the count of three.  He sends her to Old Stump, Albert’s town, to hide out until the gang back together.

Almost immediately, Anna and Albert make a connection as friends.  Anna decides to help Albert win back Louise, although he does not understand why.  She thinks that Albert can do better than Louise. But Albert takes on the challenge of a high noon battle with Foy. 

First, Albert and Anna bond over learning how to shoot.  Albert is amazed by what a crack shot Anna turns out to be.  There are some genuinely funny moments with Albert trying to shoot a gun.  The week before Albert has to have a gun fight with Foy is the most genuine moments of the film.

But with a title of the film is A Million Ways to Die in the West and that is where most of the comedy is generated.  Time and time again, we see different demises of different town folk, some downright brutal and gross.  Before the credits roll, we see people gored, splattered and gassed to death.  It does become a bit too much by the end.

The other part of the plot is between Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman.  He plays the best friend Edward and she plays Ruth, Edward’s girlfriend and a saloon girl.  Some of the biggest laughs come with Ruth dealing with her customers in the saloon AKA the brothel.  But being Christians, Ruth and Edward have never consummated their love.  Again Sarah plays her shtick of the cute girl expelling outrageous statements to a tee.  

The film is very funny but it never builds on the humor.  The jokes stay on an even keel but never go anywhere.  There are many crude jokes throughout this film and it definitely earns its R rating.  This is not a film for the children or those who are easily offended. 

But that is exactly what one would expect from a Seth MacFarland film.  He has never been known for being subtle and the confines of television censorship are not applied to an R-rated film.    Here he crossed the line of good taste over and over again.

This is an absolutely beautiful film to look at.  Cinematographer Michael Barrett captures the look of a traditional John Ford Western in both tone and color.  On more than one occasion, he makes reference to classic Western films from Stagecoach to The Searchers.  The music by Joel McNeely captures the spirit of the classic Western score while still sounding fresh. 

Another fun part of A Million is in all the cameos that are scattered throughout the film.  Some of the biggest stars in Hollywood have one line to no line parts throughout the work and it becomes an anticipation moment waiting for the next surprise guest.  No spoilers here but there is a tag after the credits.

Out of the main cast, it is amazing how comfortable Charlize Theron is in her role.  Not only is she one of the most beautiful actresses on the planet, she is also one of the most accomplished.  Here, she gets to play basically the girlfriend role but at the same time, a conflicted character.  She looks as absolutely perfect in work clothes as she does in fancy dresses.  She is genuinely funny and charming over and over again.

Seth MacFarland does a better job as a director than he does as an actor.  While he frames the comedy bits perfectly, capturing every joke with his trademark flair—he doesn’t seem to know how to direct himself.  Time and time again, he mugs at the camera trying to milk every joke dry.  He needs to learn to pull back and let the material do the work. 

A Million Ways to Die in the West is no Blazing Saddles but it is a decent homage to many classic Western themed movies.  For those who liked Ted, this is very much the same kind of film.  It is crude and a bit unfocused but it did seem to please its intended young audience. 

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