A few, not a million, ways to like 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” (2014) 2 / 4 stars - by Jeff Mitchell - Seth MacFarlane rightfully built an exemplary comedic reputation by pushing boundaries on the small screen with “Family Guy”, “American Dad!” and “The Cleveland Show”, and he reached huge success on the big screen with a teddy bear who smokes, drinks and curses in 2012‘s “Ted”.
MacFarlane is a man with big and bold ideas, and this time he uses his funny man touch on the American Western in “A Million Ways to Die in the West”.
From the film’s opening shots, he goes very bold - and spares no expense - with spectacular and spacious views of the Arizona desert.
Big blue skies, jagged mountain peaks, winding horse trails, and the overall quiet stillness of the American west find themselves on display along with accompanying orchestra music.
The visuals and sounds easily mesh and bring a most welcomed nostalgia.
MacFarlane takes extreme care in paying homage to the westerns of “yesterdecade”, and if someone stumbled in the theatre during the opening credits, that person would swear a “Shane” (1953) or “Giant” (1956) remake was about to grace the screen.
From a production standpoint, MacFarlane hits a home run.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a gorgeous film to watch, but of course, it is not a classic western at all.
MacFarlane also plays the lead as Albert, a 30-something sheep farmer who lives with his parents.
Albert is not happy living under his parents’ roof and is not very skilled at keeping track of his sheep.
They tend to wander off all the time, and one sheep routinely climbs on the roof, however, Albert detests - above all else - the American west in 1882.
He complains about disease, poor health care, gunplay, and overall lawlessness.
At one moment, Albert points out the mayor was killed and left on the street for two days, and then wolves drag the former town leader away to help exasperate his frustration.
It seems Albert is the only one with these feelings, but he speaks his mind on the flawed stated of affairs throughout the film.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is highly effective by presenting a stark dichotomy of the previously mentioned romanticism of the American west, while simultaneously poking very real holes at the ol’ folklore.
MacFarlane’s signature is everywhere, and he provides random cutaways with wild visuals, and the script is filled with quick wit and funny bits.
On the other hand, the movie falls down in parts.
Due to Albert seeming so out of place (and out of time), it is difficult to relate to him.
Of course, we relate to him, because Albert talks like someone from 2014 (not 1882), however, because of his matter-of-fact 2014 thoughts and feelings, the audience is taken out of the story.
The movie becomes a place for one-liners and satire, but at the same time, it wants you to really feel Albert’s plight and his story. Unfortunately, I could not do both.
You see, he lost his girlfriend and his confidence, but a mysterious and beautiful stranger, Anna (Charlize Theron), rides into town and tries to build up his self-esteem, and perhaps, along with it, a romance.
These moments are sweet, nice and genuine, but the movie’s overall story arc is pretty simple and does not warrant a 1 hour 56 minute runtime.
There is a lot of great material here, and funny performances from a good and sizable supporting cast - Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and Amanda Seyfried - give the movie life, but the long run time and the back and forth between budding romance and stark caricature does not completely hold together.
For Seth MacFarlane fans, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a must-see, but for everyone else, a cheaper matinee or Netflix rental might be the best way to kick up your spurs to see this comedy.
Image credits: Universal Pictures