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A Million Ways to Die in the West: Slightly funnier than “Ted”

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Image from Universal Pictures

A Million Ways to Die In the West


Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material

Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:

After being recently dumped by a woman named Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for the owner of a moustachery (Neil Patrick Harris) a sheepish sheep farmer named Albert (Seth MacFarlane) who has a little Don Knotts “The Shakiest Gun in the West” in him (just way more vulgar) finds himself falling for a mysterious, gunslingin’ woman named Anna (Charlize Theron). The thing is, Anna is married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) the prototypical rough and tumble, no nonsense, most intimidating bad guy in the West.
Though “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has all the makings of a hilarious Comedy-Western; with a running time about thirty minutes too long (a la “Django Unchained”) this satirical comedy is funny, yet sadly forgettable.

Being that this is a raunchy comedy set in the wild west, it is impossible not to compare it to the likes of “Blazing Saddles”, which is a death sentence in and of itself. And it doesn’t help that it has been wildly apparent for years how Seth Macfarlane desperately wishes to be proclaimed as this era’s Mel Brooks (which he is not). That said, I’m not saying that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” isn’t funny. Quite the contrary; it’s slightly funnier than “Ted” (MacFarlane’s last directorial attempt). Here’s the problem: With “Ted” we saw stretches of laugh-out-loud bits, followed by stretches of waiting to laugh moments. In “A Million Ways to Die in the West” there is a pretty consistent chuckle factor all the way through. The cleverness in the script’s “Family Guy” inspired crudeness and boundary pushing subject matter is quite apparent. But therein lies the problem. Even though I found this funnier than “Ted”, there was never that laugh-out-loud moment. And chuckle-a-minute comedies are usually not what people pay eleven dollars to see.

With pacing and cinematography that would be at home in any American Western during the John Ford era and a plethora of solid “old west” characters, it is obvious that MacFarlane holds the Western genre in high regard. But while “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has the look of a proficient Western, and while the comedic aspect is consistently funnier than what most critics are giving it credit for, MacFarlane has a hard time integrating these two genre’s into one fully formed Comedy-Western; as throughout the film he clumsily switches back and forth between comedy and classic Western. This results in an ongoing feeling of tonal unevenness or genre wavering.

While MacFarlane’s direction is hit or miss, his performance does steal the show. Who knew that MacFarlane could hold his own, as the charismatic lead, against this star studded cast? Well, probably a lot of people knew that, but it did take me by surprise.

Final Thought: What it all comes down to is that for a comedy to reach a certain level of entertainment value, there needs to be at least a few memorable/quotable moments within it. As I alluded to earlier, MacFarlane’s sense of humor here will garner chuckles and the film itself is never really boring (as “Ted” was multiple times). However, there is nothing in “A Million Ways to Die in the West” that is memorable enough to quote back and forth between your friends post-viewing.

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