Friday, May 30, 2014

Film Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

I need to get out of the way that I loved Seth MacFarlane's Ted.  I think it was one of the funniest movies I've seen in years.  So it was with great anticipation that I went to see his followup film A Million Ways to Die in the West, in which he stars as well as writes and directs.

And I was greatly disappointed.

The movie centers around MacFarlane's character Albert, a sheep farmer in 1882 in the Old West.  The central conceit of the movie is that Albert is a 21st century personality making modern observations about the severity of the Old West.  He does not see a point in its roughness, and so he loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) through his cowardice.  But then Anna (Chalize Theron), wife of ruthless bandit Clench Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) comes to town annonymously and the two spark up a friendship/romance.

The story is fairly straightforward and by-the-numbers.  The narrative is there only to set up MacFarlane's outrageous gags.  And to be sure there are some big laughs.  But they are few and far between.  For the most part, the humor is at the level of a typical episode of Family Guy.

MacFarlane is serviceable as a leading man, but his acting is all in his voice.  He doesn't engender the same pathos as Mark Walberg did in Ted.  Theron is actually quite good.  She comes off as intelligent, funny, and strong.   Neeson does a good job as Leatherwood, but MacFarlane writes too much darkness into his character.  In Back to the Future III, Mad Dog Tannen was a killer like Leatherwood, but his violence never distracted from the comedy.

A big detraction for me was Sarah Silverman as Ruth the prostitute.  Perhaps it is simply my own personal taste, but she has always come off to me as a disgusting person.  The most debased and vulgar things are said and done with Ruth.  It made  me queesy more than it made me laugh.

As a Catholic, I noticed a lot more jabs at Christianity in the movie than in Ted.  In both movies, MacFarlane went after any and all sacred cows.  But the humor in Ted seemed more light-hearted, a good natured ribbing.  A Million Ways to Die in the West is more biting.  There seems to be more of an attempt to laugh at than to laugh with.   Ruth and her boyfriend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) are particularly used to portray Christian as stupid hypocrites.

And because of that, the movie's lack of charm, the story ends up dragging.  Everything in the movie plays out too long.  The central conceit gets old very fast.  The gross out jokes go too far.  The movie makes callbacks to jokes that were only mediocre to begin with, so did not necessitate an encore. I do not mind raunch, but shock humor wears thin.

Perhaps I am being unfair by continually comparing A Million Ways to Die in the West to Ted.  But when you see what MacFarlane is capable of acheiving, you can't help but feel like this time out is a wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5 stars.

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