Film Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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Starring: Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlize Theron, and Seth McFarlane; Directed by: Seth McFarlane

Reviewed by: CinematiChris

After dipping his toes into the water with 2012’s TED, Seth McFarlane’s finally given himself an opportunity to do some actual live action starring in a film, in a genre that hasn’t been confronted in a while (the western comedy)… How does he and this film do?

In short? Overall, not well.

The film’s flimsy story revolves around Albert Stark (McFarlane), a lousy shepherd and a coward, who loses his longtime girlfriend after talking his way out of a duel. After this, he suffers a mental breakdown, and challenges the man she left him for, the local moustachierre played by NPH, aided by the mysterious newcomer to the town, played fantastically by Charlize Theron… All the meanwhile, a mysterious master gunslinger and thief is planning on making a visit to Albert’s little hometown of Old Stump soon…

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The four main players meet at a local hodown

Seeing as it is McFarlane’s genre of specialty, it should  be fair to judge the film’s comedy and script first and foremost.  It should come as no surprise that many critics, myself included, will compare this film to Blazing Saddles, a film that many would likely consider the quintessential western parody film. Though some may consider that an unfair comparison since by that point, Brooks had acquired both directing and acting skills from 2 prior films and other projects, I still find it a necessary one to make.

The comedy in this film is usually McFarlane’s regular style he uses; a mile-a-minute machine gunning of offensive gags, outrageous statements and stereotypes meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Remember how I mentioned Mel Brooks? I did that specifically so I could mention why large chunks of this film didn’t work. Whereas Brooks’ Saddles featured jokes about race, they did them in a manner subtly poking fun at the ignorance of the racist parties, while McFarlane’s Million Ways is just a constant test of “did s/he really just say/do that?!” and how the audience reacts to it, with either disgust, chuckles, or absolute silence being the defaults at the screener I went to. If not a grossout gag or “outrageous” dialogue (using the quotes, because if you’ve seen enough of his material, little remains truly outrageous anymore), the remaining jokes are repetitive jabs at how awful the American Old West was, and shots of McFarlane making an over-the-top reaction face to it.

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Expect to see Seth McFarlane make this face quite a bit if you watch…

In regards to the acting, besides McFarlane being rather bland himself, I don’t really have any complaints. In fact, Charlize Theron did rather well as the mysterious Anna, adding a unique mix of friendly, heartfelt and straight up badass to the character. Luckily, to counter-balance the general eh-ness of the actual acting, there’s a multitude of cameos that range from rather irritating (Gilbert Gottfried) to confusing (Ryan Reynolds in a dialogue-less one) and awesome (not mentioning them so as to not spoil them).

One thing I couldn’t help thinking by the end of the film was that: this film doesn’t deserve the people working on it. Especially the cinematographer and the main composer, who definitely helped bring a solid Western ambiance to an otherwise sloppy film.

In the end, it’s not a good time. If it weren’t for one or two jokes unspoiled by the trailers, including the cameos, I wouldn’t have been happy about the wasted free ticket I used to go see this film.

3 unexpected but appreciated cameos out of 10.

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