If Ted was all it took to convince many fans that Seth MacFarlane’s unique brand of humor could work on the big screen, A Million Ways to Die in the West may be enough to derail that good faith. Though it has a handful of chuckle inspiring moments, MacFarlane’s latest, which is due in theaters everywhere May 30, feels disappointingly phoned in. MacFarlane re-teamed with writing partners Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin to craft this tale, but the wry, sharp and edgy humor that the three injected into Ted, and that can be found routinely in Family Guy are far less present than we would hope, or expect, in their 1880s Western farce, A Million Ways to Die in the West.
MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who hates the frontier and basically everything about his existence, save for his lady friend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried). That is, until Louise dumps him and takes up with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a real cad who runs the town moustachery. When Anna, a mysterious and beautiful woman arrives in town and senses a kindred spirit in Albert, she decides to help him win back his lady love––though she neglects to tell him that her husband is the most feared gunfighter in the territory (Liam Neeson).
A Million Ways to Die in the West has a cast that’s positively stacked with talent: Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Liam Neeson and Sarah Silverman fill in the primary roles alongside MacFarlane, who himself is quite an accomplished voice actor. Unfortunately, they are all limited by a script where the majority of the humor is propped up on the device of juxtaposing modern lingo and attitudes with scenarios typical of cinematic westerns and wild west tall tales.
Instead of bringing in unexpected humor A Million Ways goes for the obvious laughs, instead of an unexpected Flash Gordon cameo, we get what amounts to a Family Guy-style Back to the Future cutaway. The many obvious perils and pitfalls of the old west and a member of the oldest profession who wants to wait until marriage to sleep with her boyfriend become the most oft revisited punchlines––but the expiration date on their humor is rapidly advanced by the fact that the majority of of what does work about those devices has already been trotted out in trailers.
When an audience at the latest Adam Sandler movie (Blended) is rocked by far more laughter than something offered up by one of the most cutting comedy minds around, it’s safe to say the latter went off the rails at some point. Theron, Harris and Ribisi manage to steal some scenes, but ultimately, the film shortchanges them, the rest of the cast and the audience. Seth MacFarlane is capable of so much better than this sophomore slump of an effort, he’s hoping he makes a return to form with his next go round.