By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Though it never tops the intelligent, witty, and zany western comedy classic Blazing Saddles, A Million Ways to Die in the West does offer a decent share of funny comedic moments of the raunchy variety. I emphasize raunchy, simply because I know some movie goers despise that brand of comedy and probably won’t want to pay to see this. For those who like their comedy dirty, sometimes shocking and disturbing, then this film will satisfy. Personally, I can handle raunchy, risqué, and shocking content to a certain point, but when filmmakers set out to push the envelope for the sake of shock and awe with no intention of entertaining, then I’m out. As Seth McFarlane loves to do in his TV show Family Guy and as he does in his previous movie Ted, he flailingly walks the tightrope of entertainment and repulsion in his latest cinematic release. He offers a mixed bag of sweet, heartfelt moments, hilarious gags, smart, witty humor, and disgusting, somewhat nauseating and disturbing scenes. A Million Ways to Die in the West is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who bravely sample his brew, be warned, it will cause a few spit-takes.
McFarlane, who also directs and writes, stars as Albert Stark, a sweet, good-natured and humble sheep herder who hates living in the old west. Everyday, Stark witnesses various inds of deaths taking place while constantly fearing for his own life. After his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps Albert for the arrogant and condescending businessman Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), he attempts to win her back so that they can run off together and leave their Godforsaken town. New arrival Anna (Charlize Theron) befriends Albert and helps him try to win back Louise, but unbeknownst to Albert, their friendship may put him in danger as Anna is the unhappy wife of dangerous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).
McFarlane, who co-writes the film with Alec Sulkin, helms a comedy that does deliver plenty of laughs, but also a few unfunny jokes and gags that will make anyone literally gag in disgust. McFarlane manages to walk that tightrope mostly well, but falls over a few times into the side of repulsion. McFarlane loves to shock his audiences, but sometimes goes too far to the point where it just isn’t funny. Thankfully, I found enough of his humor in the film funny, entertaining, and even sweet at times. McFarlane actually takes some fun and witty jabs at old American western movies that often romanticized these rough and tumble frontier days. Here, the West “sucks” and McFarlane illustrates his point with some very funny moments.
What also helps make his film engaging is the likable everyman quality he brings to the Albert character. I have yet to see a wide range from his live action performances, but as the lead here, McFarlane displays his natural affable charm. He and Charlize Theron share a lovable chemistry on screen, and Theron is a natural as an endearing, sympathetic, but strong woman of the west. The movie features hilarious performances by Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi (Albert’s best friend Edward), and Sarah Silverman (Edward’s girlfriend/town prostitute Ruth). Liam Neeson performs adequately as the evil and spiteful Clinch Leatherwood, but his character development is rather limited. Thought the main characters/actors deliver fun and enjoyable performances, the awesomely hilarious cameos earned the most laughter in the film. I will not spoil any of these, but audiences should keep their eyes peeled, some of them are easy to miss.
So, as far as my recommendations go, those who enjoy McFarlane’s humor will definitely like this outrageous comedy. Those on the fence, or those who simply despise McFarlane’s style should definitely stay away. I found his latest live action comedy funnier and more entertaining than Ted, but gave it only three stars (out of four) because of McFarlane’s nasty penchant to fall into revolting territory.