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“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is as cluttered as title suggests

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"A Million Ways to Die in the West" (2014)


Seth MacFarlane’s follow-up to “Ted”, entitled “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” is definitely funny but sadly disappointing when compared to other raunchy comedies of the day. MacFarlane gets together a great cast that is sadly wasted in what could have been much funnier. It tries to be this generation’s “Blazing Saddles,” instead just showing how MacFarlane is a poor man’s Mel Brooks.
Frankly, the biggest issue with “West” is that it fails to really shock and offend the audience; that’s right, MacFarlane isn’t offensive enough. Rather than embrace the “Blazing Saddles” formula of not just being utterly politically incorrect but also ignoring any reason in terms of the narrative structure expected, MacFarlane feels compelled to wrap his ridiculous humor around a plot that feels winded by the film’s end. The movie is saved in part by ever-beautiful Charlize Theron, whose brilliance breathes much needed life into a story that already feels stale 20 minutes in.
For having such a great cast the writing does a disservice to the potential that was left unachieved. Liam Neeson is a satisfying villain but is missing for the bulk of the film. Neil Patrick Harris has a chance to shine in a funny musical number but instead he is simply a glorified backup dancer. Giovanni Ribisi as the amiable dork friend and Sarah Silverman as his Christian prostitute girlfriend who wants to save herself for marriage only to then stumble upstairs to perform her distasteful duties is the best gag in the film. They are the only moments when MacFarlane actually lets the vulgarity take the comedic forefront of the scene. Otherwise it felt a timid affair.
There are absolutely stellar gags throughout, especially the amazing cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Foxx as Django. Sadly, rather than constantly doing joke after dirty joke, “West” tries and fails to have a traditional and still interesting plot arc. Seth MacFarlane’s Albert is never a bad person but he is never a good one either. He seems devoid of any meat to his character, a blah cardboard cutout that wanders through the frontier and somehow gains the favor of Theron’s Anna. Their relationship seems forced to say the least, almost a blatant directorial decision to just make the lead date the gorgeous blonde, not for any rational reason, just so MacFarlane could be seen onscreen kissing her. And just as unbelievable as that relationship working is how unbelievably unlikeable Amanda Seyfried is, begging the question, how much of a loser is poor Albert that he could possibly love her?
If MacFarlane embraced the lunacy of his genre instead of his poor attempt at a sensible plot, these inconsistencies would not have been so tiresome. The real problem though was that MacFarlane is no Spike Jonze or David O. Russell. Writing and directing the same project is hard and sometimes a film requires those two voices to be separate in order to best avoid any bad ideas. It seems like MacFarlane didn’t want to cut anything out and, as the director, writer, and lead, he lacked another strong voice to correct his path. It is a very funny film, if not a good 30 minutes too long, but it just felt a little too indulgent on MacFarlane’s part to be anything more than a disappointingly forgettable film.