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Scattered laughs not enough to survive 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

Seth MacFarlane takes the screen with co-star Charlize Theron in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.
Seth MacFarlane takes the screen with co-star Charlize Theron in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.
Universal Pictures, with permission

A Million Ways to Die In the West


Release date: May 30, 2014

Written and Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, and Liam Neeson

There are probably a million ways to make a better comedy than "A Million Ways to Die in the West". In his second crack at a live action feature film, Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Family Guy) throws literally a million jokes at the audience. Most of them are raunchy and tasteless and not nearly enough of them hit their mark in this immature western spoof.

Set in the rough and tumble Arizona desert during in 1882, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is like a live action cartoon. After lending his voice to the titular Ted in his first flick, MacFarlane graces the screen with his presence this time around. He plays Albert, an idiot sheep farmer who is way in over his head living in the dangerous wild, wild west. His cowardice costs him what he believes is the love of his life when his girlfriend, played by Amanda Seyfriend, who in turn falls for a dapper dandy with a slick mustache. This character is played by Neil Patrick Harris, who is somehow utterly unfunny here.

Albert gets his chance at redemption when a mysterious stranger named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town. Albert's innocence amuses her and their relationship develops exactly the way you think it does. He teaches her about the million ways someone can be suddenly and hilariously killed living in the wild, wild west and she teaches him a little something about self respect and love, etc.

As a writer and a director, Seth Macfarlane has never shown restraint. He's proven time and time again he's willing to go to the bottom of the well to both insult and entertain his audience. This, more than last summer's "Ted" is aimed directly at his fans who appreciate MacFarlane's affinity for jokes about poop and anal sex. The better jokes involve the shockingly hilarious ways that people do meet their maker in such desolate times, but far too often the narrative steers away from the jokes that are actually working.

But as relentless as he is as a writer, Seth MacFarlane is equally inept as an actor, which is the real problem with this movie. MacFarlane just doesn't have the screen presence to neither hang with his heavyweight co-stars, nor the comic chops to make the endless string of one-liners feel like anything more than a writer simply riffing his own material. Here's hoping in the future he casts an actor, who can both act and make the proper facial expressions that accompany the jokes. Unfortunately MacFarlance can't do either.

The talent discrepancy is glaringly obvious when he's on screen with Theron, who seems to be always looking around for a better movie to pop up around her. Liam Neeson plays the films infamous villain, who will ultimately challenge Albert for Anna's love. What could have been a fun casting stunt, merely ends up with Neeson going through the motions, probably also trying to figure out how and why he agreed to do this movie. Then there is Giovanni Ribisi playing the same dumb weird character he seems to play in everything, and Sarah Silverman as his whore wife, who because of her strict Catholic beliefs won't sleep with him until they are married. It's even less funny in the movie.

The target audience for "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is pretty limited. Most of the jokes aren't nearly as funny as MacFarlane thinks they are so, if you prefer your satirical comedy with a slight hint of wit, you're looking in the wrong place. It's good for a few shameful laughs though, and there are a few cameos that are fun, even if they've been spoiled in trailers and commercials.

Running time: 116 mins.

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

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