Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut, Ted, was a welcome surprise. It was a mix of a charming friendship, un-ironic love of the 80s, and gratuitous amount of raunchy humor. Like the best episodes of MacFarlane’s Family Guy, it managed a fine balance between all of those things to provide a high quality product. With his sophomore effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, I was hoping things would be a little less, well, sophomoric.
A Million Ways starts strong, but as it continues, it feels like a million years as joke after joke is thrown out with hopes that one of them works. As jokes continually fail, and extraneous scenes pile onto the film’s near two hour run, I soon realized I’d rather die in a million different ways than continue watching this juvenile mess.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Release Date: May 30, 2014
A Million Ways to Die in the West stars Seth MacFarlane as Albert, a man who doesn’t belong in his time period. He’s essentially everything the “Wild West” is not. He’s cowardly, intelligent, and doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. After getting dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), he meets Anna (Charlize Theron), the wife of terrible criminal, Clinch (Liam Neeson), and prepares for a shootout with Louise’s new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). And all the while, Albert is trying to avoid a horrible death brought out by living in the West.
Reviewing comedies is difficult. I believe I mention this every time I review a comedic film, but it especially bears repeating here. Seth MacFarlane has a particular brand of comedy, and your enjoyment of the film completely relies on how much “raunch” you’re both willing to sit through, and find hilarious. I’ve got no problems with raunchy comedies, but I’m always going to consider the origin of each joke. At least in that way, I’m not going to sit here and tell you this film is “funny” or “not funny” and expect you to think the same. But, we can agree on one thing. A Million Ways is going to test your patience. Even when funny, A Million Ways drags out each joke and beats it like a dead horse.
A Million Ways plays out like an unearned Director’s Cut version of itself. In a bit of self indulgence, MacFarlane’s character Albert gets a ton of monologues/tirades in which he explains why the “Wild West” is such a bad place. Those speeches are indicative of the film’s main problem: it’s editing. It weirdly balances its comedy. In between scenes where jokes are fired in a rapid succession, you get long and stretched out patches that rely on the strength of one joke. And if the joke fails to land with you, you’re going to definitely feel the length of the scene. Even when something works, however, it’s continuous references throughout really kills all of its initial momentum. There are moments where gags don’t get time to breathe without a character commenting on how “wacky” it is. For example, a block of ice kills a man, and rather just awkwardly soak in the absurdity of the situation, Albert yells how insane it is.
I wouldn’t be focusing so much on why the comedy doesn’t work if A Million Ways had something else of substance. Unfortunately, the film’s unique premise (a cartoonish take on the “Wild West” from a modern perspective) is just a platform for easy jokes. Rather than create a story worth sitting through, we get a bare bones, generic western filled with excellent actors. It’s missing a heart within its cynical view. There’s almost no reason to stay engaged. But, as much as I didn’t care about the events of the film, I did like seeing them happen. Anchored by great actors (except from Liam Neeson, who really can’t do anything with what little he’s given, and Sarah Silverman, who’s just the butt of crude sex jokes), a lot of the film’s jokes and pop culture references only work because Patrick-Harris’ or MacFarlane’s delivery. Say what I will about the humor, it’s never done in a half-assed manner.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably still wondering whether or not you’re going to throw your money at this. For this very situation, I have developed a litmus test. How funny does a thirty second poop joke sound to you (and that’s not including all of the telegraphed build up to it)? Find it funny, add about ten to fifteen points to the score. Don’t find it funny, take away ten points. All in all, A Million Ways to Die in the West is an okay film.
On a technical level everything looks good, the musical score is good, and the referential cameos are worth seeing, but everything else is hollow. A completely decent, forgettable comedy that’ll get buried under every other great comedy hopefully coming our way this year.
Ted might’ve been a fluke.