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A Million Ways to Die in the West

by Charlie Nash
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Friday May 30, 2014
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Seth MacFarlane stars in 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'
Seth MacFarlane stars in 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'  (Source:Universal Pictures)

During one scene of Seth MacFarlene's "A Million Ways to Die in the West," one of the film's sub-villains, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), makes a slew of intentionally bad puns directed at the hero of the story, Albert (MacFarlene), to which he responds, "How is that funny?"

It's a question that I asked myself throughout the entirety of the picture's indefensibly bloated, almost entirely laugh-free 116-minute runtime; not because the film is raunchy and offensive, but because it's so lazy, so smug, and so juvenile in its attempt to execute its numerous scatological jokes.

MacFarlene produced, directed and co-wrote this comic dead zone in addition to starring as Albert, a depressed, wimpy sheep farmer who's recently been dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried, who's completely wasted here), but catches the attention of a peculiar new woman in town named Anna (the immensely talented Charlize Theron), who agrees to teach him new skills on how to survive in the west and help him win back the heart of his former love interest. Little does Albert know that Anna is actually married to a deadly outlaw named Clinch (Liam Neeson), who is anything but happy to find out that his wife is spending so much time with the unlikely protagonist. When everything he holds dear is put in severe jeopardy, Albert is forced to fight back with his new sense of courage and persistence.

Of course, as with too many comedies these days, the formulaic plot is little more than an excuse to string together a series of gags and set pieces, which would be fine if they didn't all land with a thud. Filled with jokes consisting of violent slapstick, foul language and various bodily fluids, the film earns its R-rating, but rarely has a comedy that's intended for adults felt so much like it was designed for immature children. Many of the punch lines come off as if the actors just learned a bunch of naughty words on an elementary school playground during recess and can't wait to share them with their friends.

Unfortunately, most of these flaws fall on the shoulders of MacFarlene himself, who in his first starring live-action role in a feature film is both bland and obnoxiously self-satisfied. Even though he's portraying a character who's full of angst and is consistently the butt of a majority of the film's jokes, MacFarlene delivers his lines as if he's performing a one-man show at a comedy club, nullifying any sense of true pathos for his character's suffering. It's hard to root for a character who whines and complains about his current situation that simultaneously seems to be winking at the audience at just how clever he is, even in a goofy comedy such as this one. Not only does it make him seem as if he's reveling in his own indulgent comic material, making it twice as unfunny. He draws so much attention to himself as the star of the show in a self-congratulatory manner, despite the fact that there are several other talented actors involved here who are far more worthy of screen time.

Many of the punch lines come off as if the actors just learned a bunch of naughty words on an elementary school playground during recess and can't wait to share them with their friends.

Charlize Theron has proved that she has sharp comedic chops in films such as "Young Adult," and it's almost always a pleasure to see her in any movie these days. But she's stuck playing a character who starts off as a strong, independent woman who's ultimately reduced to being a damsel in distress that MacFarlene must ultimately obtain as a romantic prize.

The comic brilliance of Sarah Silverman is equally squandered by casting her as a prostitute who also wants to save sex for marriage, because... wait, what? Yeah, it's a cheap one-trick pony of a character that doesn't make sense, but the film thinks it's hilarious anyways for whatever reason. In one scene, her boyfriend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi, who's basically the become the equivalent of MacFarlene's Rob Schneider in Adam Sandler comedies), wipes a glob of semen off of her cheek in the midst of her debating with him why she's not ready to have pre-marital sex, because, think about it, that's really funny!

Sexist archetypes aside, the male counterparts are equally underutilized as well. The only trait that the charming Neil Patrick Harris can play off of with his character is that he has a mustache, and therefore, that makes him an attractive douchebag. Well, actually, in one scene he does get to crap into a hat for an extended period of time, because there simply aren't enough poop jokes in comedies these days.

As for Liam Neeson, who was a hoot in "The Lego Movie" earlier this year, there are just no comic opportunities for him to take advantage of, apart from being the generic, gun-slinging bad guy who threatens the happiness of Albert. Since MacFarlene hogs just about every sequence that he's in, Neeson barely gets to provide a single punch line.

With multiple seasons of "Family Guy" and the success of the surprisingly funny "Ted" under his belt, it would be completely unfair to say that Seth MacFarlene is without comedic talent. However, he's gotten to a point where he's become so popular that it feels as if he's not even trying anymore, and this style of humor is beginning to feel all too safe and familiar at this point. In fact, it's become borderline insulting to the general public's intelligence as consumers.

If he stretched his comic muscles further, MacFarlene could easily whip up another hysterical piece of work, but unfortunately, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" feels like a dumbed down version of "Blazing Saddles" that's designed for twelve-year-old boys to watch during Friday night sleepovers and sneak past their parents once they've gone to bed.

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