The western comedy. While it's not quite an American institution, this blended genre has given us Mel Brooks' classic Blazing Saddles and the severely underrated Maverick, both of which are great spins on a beloved genre. However, when the most recent installment in this blended genre, Shanghai Knights, came out in 2003, is releasing another western comedy such a great idea?
If you're Seth MacFarlane and the film is A Million Ways to Die in the West, then the answer is a resounding yes! Even if you aren't a fan of Family Guy or American Dad, Million Ways proves that MacFarlane is far more than silly animated satires or movies featuring talking animals, and could create a whole new herd of fans for the comedic Renaissance man.
After looking foolish in front of all the townsfolk in Old Stump when he backs down from a gun fight, Albert (MacFarlane) realizes his life sucks. His girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him for being a coward, his friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) can't get over that his wife Ruth (Sarah Silverman) is a prostitute, and his sheep herding business is less than stellar. Things only get worse when, out of blind rage, Albert challenges local entrepreneur Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to a gun fight, he finds himself well over his head. That is, until a beautiful stranger named Anna (Charlize Theron) rolls into town, who captures Albert's attention instantly, bringing him out of his self-deprecating funk and helping to build some self-esteem for once. Oh, did I mention Anna is married to Clinch (Liam Neeson), the most feared gunslinger in the land? Nothing bad can come from that, right?
Like with Ted, MacFarlane pulls triple duty as actor, director and screenwriter, co-writing the film with fellow Ted scribes Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. However, that is where the similarities to MacFarlane's feature film debut. Where Ted shared many characteristics with Family Guy, Million Ways manages to break free from all MacFarlane's trademarks. Sure, there's a fairly bizarre musical number, but, without talking animals, ridiculous sitcom situations, and the need for goofy voices, Million Ways is a brand new direction, and MacFarlane comes out the better for it. Not only does he prove he is stunning as the leading man, but shows that he adds to the remarkable cast instead of needing to be held up by them.
Indeed, A Million Ways to Die in the West has a million things going for it. Instead of being a satire like Blazing Saddles, being based on a previous TV show like Maverick, or being reliant on a gimmick like Shanghai Noon and its sequel, Million Ways stands on its own merits. Yes, in typical MacFarlane fashion, the jokes often go a little too far, but it's the subtle moments that steal the show. Subtlety from Seth MacFarlane? Unbelievable as it may be, but yes. MacFarlane is slowly proving to be a comedic genius, and, regardless of his previous outings, is showing a sense of maturity with his material. While that may not bode well for diehard Family Guy fans, this could usher in a new era for MacFarlane, and, with it, a new fan base.
FINAL VERDICT: Saddle up, pardner! It's time to laugh! A Million Ways to Die in the West is a departure from Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy-esque antics and manages to deliver the comedy on its own merit. MacFarlane wins over as the leading man, and the rest of the cast only adds to the brilliance. Yes, the comedy takes some sharp turns to the over-the-top, but, with any road to maturity, nothing is instantaneous. And, while there are no talking animals, Million Ways provides a million laughs.