The one thing you can say about Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy” and “Ted,” is that he is always surprising people. Along with creating a trio of cartoon comedies, he successfully transitioned onto the big screen. He’s also released an album of traditional pop music before hosting the Academy Awards. With such a varying career, it would seem MacFarlane can do anything. The new film “A Million Ways to Die in the West” proves there is a limit to what MacFarlane can do successfully.
MacFarlane is a one man show here, directing, co-writing, and starring as Albert. He is a coward living on the frontier, hating every minute of it. Things go from bad to worse for him when his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him for the local mustache groomer (Neil Patrick Harris). Albert finally sees a ray of hope when Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town, little does he know that she is hiding out and waiting for her husband, a notorious gunslinger.
This seems to be the multi-hyphenate entertainer making an attempt to stretch into more mature territory. Without pop culture references to fall back on, he struggles to garner big laughs. “A Million Ways to Die” offers laughs throughout, but there aren’t many big laughs to be had. Another problem is that this is a case where the trailer really does give away many of the bigger jokes and scenes – including the celebrity cameos and the mid-film dance sequence.
A running time of almost two hours doesn’t do the film any favors, either. By the time the third act starts, you might similarly find yourself checking the clock and making a list of what could have been cut out. There are only so many gun duels that can be included before it becomes repetitive. The pacing suffers from an attempt to fit too much into the film rather than letting the story organically unfold.
It’s a shame that the script is lacking laughs because the all-star cast is more than game for the film. Comedian Sarah Silverman is able to do the most with the one note joke that is given to her, thanks to her role as a prostitute playing into her wheelhouse. On the other hand, Seyfried – who hasn’t had much luck with comedies since breaking through in “Mean Girls” a decade ago – suffers from over playing the dour, gold digger who breaks up with Albert. In a cast filled more diverse actors, Seyfried is the weak link.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” shows MacFarlane stretching to grow out of his tried and true brand of comedy. Unfortunately, it proves that sometimes if it isn’t broken, you shouldn’t try to fix it. While MacFarlane may not have hit a comedic home run here, he’s inventive with the body count and how he piles the bodies up. Just don’t expect dying of laughter to be a cause of death.