A Million Ways to Die in the West Movie Review
Comedies are a hard sell. As the most subjective genre, it’s nearly impossible to really rate or rank them as everyone has a different source that tickles their funny bone. I honestly have no idea what you will think of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. For me, it was a mix bag of humor and boring. Is it original? Sometimes. Is it clever? Sorta. Did I laugh? A little. While there are glimpses of extremely funny moments, unfortunately they come too few and far between.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is a title that needs little explanation. The idea of lambasting a time in our history where people died from just about anything is a brilliant concept. Wild animals, plagues, winters, gun fights, rattle snakes, Indians, blocks of ice, and even the doctors whose modern medicine practices consist of using a bird to peck out your wounds and hammering a nail through your head can be fatal.
While history tells us that the wild west was not the safest time period to be alive, the accuracy of ways to die were obviously and rightfully stretched on a bit for comedic effect. And in this reviewer’s opinion, not stretched far enough. Set in 1882 Arizona, the film follows a cowardly sheep farmer named Albert (Seth MacFarlane) and his fear of death in the west. After a new girl (Charlize Theron) in town helps him find a little courage, she is discovered to be the wife of a dangerous gunslinger (Liam Neeson). Albert’s running scared tactics won’t work this time if he wants to save the girl he loves.
Rather than continue living through humorous absurdism with exaggerated ways to die, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST begins one slow death through lengthy story time and scarce jokes. The film consists of a few key scenes with the best being: the “people die at the fair” town fair and a choreographed musical ‘Mustache Song’ at a barn dance. Outside of these moments, the film feels like filler just trying to get to the next place for the main jokes to thrive.
While decent as the yellow, neurotic, Woody Allen type character, commenting on all the absurdity around him, MacFarlane never quite clicks as our reluctant hero. Some of the jokes may have landed better under different casting. Theron is up for the challenge carrying the bulk of the chemistry between them that for the most part works besides their frequent lack of humor. Neeson is almost a waste as he is given nothing to work with other than being Liam Neeson. Some of the best jokes come from the supporting roles. Albert’s conservative best friend (Giovanni Ribisi) is engaged to the town’s prostitute (Sarah Silverman) and Albert’s ex girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) is dating a dandy of a man who owns a mustache oil store (Neil Patrick Harris). In fact, Neil Patrick Harris isn’t used enough as he brings the film an energy that exposes where it’s lacking elsewhere.
Seth MacFarlane is best known for his hit comedy series Family Guy. A couple of years ago he branched out to the movies with his first feature, TED. The film earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. He even hosted that very Oscars ceremony. There is no denying MacFarlane’s success but he always comes with polarizing humor. Depending on your opinion of his work in these achievements will probably be a fairly accurate gauge on what you think of his second writing, directing, and acting effort in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.
For me, I find Mr. MacFarlane to be frustratingly OK. In every piece of work, he manages to mine more than a few golden nuggets that I inevitably find myself quoting and laughing at regularly. The problem lies in the consistency. Is A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST worth wading through 116 minutes of mildly amusing crude muck to have those few moments of humorous bliss? Perhaps during a slow Netflix day.