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Review: 'A Million Ways to Die' proves vulgar mess expected

Guys like sophomoric, ridiculous comedies. Quoting lines from them is part of being male.

Giovanni Ribisi, left, and Seth MacFarlane star in "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Used with permission of Universal Studios

It’s rarely done when alone in the company of a female significant other lest we reveal what vulgarians we truly are.

Animal House: “They took the bar, the whole [effing] bar. Caddyshack: “I don’t think the heavy stuff is going to come down for a while.” The Blues Brothers: “We’re on a mission from god.”

All of those movies share memorable quotes. They also share the fact that upon their release, they were critically reviled. The nation’s movie critics dismissed them. Today? They’re classics and created a template for future filmmakers.

Seth MacFarlane followed that pattern in the first film he directed, Ted, which was a surprising smash. Now with A Million Ways to Die in the West he attempts to continue the roll. As much as MacFarlane is a personal favorite for the aforementioned Ted and TV show Family Guy (I am a guy, after all), here’s a prediction: A Million Ways to Die in the West will just be critically reviled. The movie opens wide Friday (May 30).

Of course, having entered old fogeydom, I could be very much wrong, but there’s little to remember in this comedy that has accurately been described as the dirtiest western ever made.

Unfortunately it’s vulgarity and scuzziness without purpose. What’s meant by that?

Simple answer: Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles may have held that title for eons, but its sexual references, highly charged racial comments and use of ethnic slurs were used in serving the story.

That impression isn’t given with A Million Ways to Die. More often than not, MacFarlane’s forays into extreme vulgarity are used more for shock value than adding to what is often a rail thin story.

In addition to directing, he stars as sheep farmer Albert, a man who feels out of time in the Old West in Arizona in 1882. He’s living in an uncivilized world where his parents mistreat him. His girlfriend (Amanda Seyfriend) just dumped him and her new mustached beau (Neil Patrick Harris) disrespects him.

Never mind that he’s got a best friend (Giovanni Ribisi) with the weirdest relationship in history as his prostitute girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) provides play-for-play for as many as 15 scuzzy looking guys per day, but is “saving herself” for their wedding night.

Things begin to look up for Albert when Anna (Charlize Theron) shows up in his life. She’s been sent there by her outlaw husband, Clinch (Liam Neeson) to wait until he and his gang finish their work. He doesn’t count on Anna falling for a genuine nice guy in Albert.

It helps him that she’s an expert with guns and he has a duel coming up in which he’ll likely get smoked. That leads to what everyone in the audience will expect.

MacFarlane has a cast that attacks his material eagerly. That helps A Million Ways to Die in the West, but not by much.

In the here and now, it’s a vulgar mess. However, in the future, there’s no telling what status the film will hold.

Movie: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and a host of cameos.
Studio: Universal
Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material.
Running time: 116 minutes
George’s rating: 2-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, and

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