‘A Million Ways to Die in the West:’ Welcome to Seth MacFartLand

No comedy today needs to be one hour and fifty-five minutes long. A Million Ways to Die in the West is too long, but also not funny enough. Plot-heavy and repetitive, it seems more like a movie written and directed by a guy who earnestly wanted to make a western, but the only genre in his arsenal is crude, rude and otherwise un-subtle comedy. There’s just about no way to watch this movie and think about how much it is not Blazing Saddles, but unlike Blazing Saddles, it doesn’t seem like the jokes are the first priority. Rather the story, the endless amount of story, takes too much precedence.

It’s not entirely unenjoyable; it actually has some pretty funny moments, most of them involving flatulence and/or Neil Patrick Harris. But it’s not a complete or well-structured thesis statement. Yes, there are a million ways to die in the west. No, the way to drive the point home is not to repeat in dialogue how horrible, dirty, and dangerous the west is over and over again. Some of the deaths are funny, but most of them are followed by a tiresome line that reiterates, once more, that yeah, people die in the west. The movie isn’t a comedy about how hard it is to survive in the west. It’s a love story with a single joke conceit thinly coating the plot in the same schtick.

As predicted from the trailer, there’s way too much Seth MacFarlane. He is an accomplished writer/producer/director, a voice over artist, a song and dance man, even a relatively successful award show host, but a thing he is not is an actor. The wink and the nod that goes along with each of his lines is particularly out of place among the other performances in the movie. Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, and even Sarah Silverman are all genuine and likable performers, Harris being the comedic godsend of the movie. Liam Neeson is an odd and serious choice for a villain. Again, he’s very committed to the role in a humorless way, making him a convincing villain, but not at all a funny one.

There are some strange and underwhelming cameos that should have been much better, and an uninspired drug trip sequence. But it’s proved to be one of those movies that you leave feeling underwhelmed then find yourself referencing and giggling at throughout the day. And I fully mean it when I say the most skillfully constructed and funniest jokes in the movie are the ones in which gas gets passed. The man’s got a gift. A gift for farts. And that’s no small pfeat (get it it’s a fart sound!).

Grade: B-

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