There’s a scene in A Million Ways to Die in the West where, hiding out from the bad guys in his flock of sheep, Seth MacFarlane’s character is urinated on. This goes on for several seconds before he finally runs off and for the rest of the movie you’re wondering if he ever washed himself since that happened. There’s another point in this movie where Neil Patrick Harris spends at least (or what feels like) two minutes going to the toilet in his and someone else’s bowler hat. I like bowler hats.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is MacFarlane’s followup to the success of Ted, the movie about a stoner whose teddy bear comes to life with a magic wish. MacFarlane is Albert (not playing, the character is MacFarlane) living the modest life of a sheep farmer in a town of idiots where everyone seems to die a lot. He just broke up with his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), who has moved up to the fancy moustachio’d Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), and he’s looking to drown his sorrows with his friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) who’s in love with one of the local prostitutes, Ruth (Sarah Silverman). It’s at this time that MacFarlane meets Anna (Charlize Theron), wife of one of the meanest gunslingers in the west, Liam Neeson (honestly, you’re not going to remember any of their names, it’s easier to just name the actors). So MacFarlane, unaware of who Theron really is, asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend to win back Amanda Seyfried, unaware that in a few days Neeson’s gang is going to roll up into town.
Jeez, this movie has problems. And what’s so unfortunate are the few nuggets of clever ideas being quashed by the lazy Adam Sandler level sense of humor the movie goes with for the majority of its run time. MacFarlane’s sense of humor is already incredibly divisive so to be unable to defend this movie for all the genuinely funny moments is hard enough. To explain the jokes themselves would ruin them, but to say they may be worth seeking out the film for doesn’t clarify enough considering I’ve already cynically referred to two instances of scatological humor. All I can really say is that I like MacFarlane’s sense of humor on its own. The tangential, reference humor MacFarlane employs in Family Guy is still present here and one of the jokes works really well. The rest is pretty scatter-shot with only a handful of jokes being laugh out loud funny, but then they proceed to be used five more times until they’re run into the ground.
Ted’s success was likely a fluke. MacFarlane took what was the template for a simple, formulaic rom-com and made the wacky side-character a sentient, raunchy teddy bear; a joke which he managed to stretch across 3/4 of the movie. With A Million Ways to Die in the West, MacFarlane was likely trying to make the same lightening strike twice, but this time by placing the wacky side character front and center, not making him a character at all and instead of simply voicing made himself the star (I can guarantee Ted 2 putting the focus of the story on Ted and not John, the previous main character, is going to be one of the biggest reasons it isn’t as good as the first). We’ve already seen how well making the wacky side character the star has worked out before (Pirates of the Carribean 4). His character has no flaws. This is screenwriting 101; the main character needs to have a personal problem he spends the movie trying to solve. When MacFarlane spends the movie commentating on how it’s terrible to live in that day and age, it becomes more arrogant than endearing. There’s an art form to calling everyone an idiot. Someone from the twentieth century calling people who lived over a hundred years ago idiots for not having running water just doesn’t hold up as a joke for two hours the same way a teddy bear livening up his friend’s life with debauchery was.
If the humor I’ve described is in your wheelhouse, then it’s definitely my recommendation to see A Million Ways to Die in the West. My review of this movie wasn’t going to change your mind about this film one way or the other. The most it was ever going to do was inform you of when the movie is going to air.
A Million Ways to Die in the West Premieres Saturday, March 21st at 8:00pm on HBO!
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