Imagine yourself a filmmaker who has several successful television shows and you’ve created a single movie that made far more money than it probably should. What do you do next? Take a break? Just keep up with the TV shows? How about putting yourself in the leading role of your next feature, even though you’re not really an actor? Well, that’s what Seth MacFarlane’s done with A Million Ways to Die in the West, a film which he leads, directs, produces, and co-wrote. Perhaps MacFarlane had too much control this time around.
I say that only because the character he plays, our film’s lead, is about the only one with anything to do for the entire two hours for which A Million Ways to Die in the West plays. This is a long comedy, but it is so very lacking in plot and characters (and jokes, really) that there isn’t a whole lot to hold your interest. A few misses are permissible in a good comedy, but I laughed fewer than five times during this one. And I liked MacFarlane’s Ted! (Although I’ll admit I liked it less than most people seemed to.)
MacFarlane plays Albert, who begins the film by chickening out of a gunfight and breaking up with his long-term girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfreid). He gets depressed. And then along comes Anna (Charlize Theron), who becomes his new girlfriend. But Louise is now with the mustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Oh, no! Anna is also married to the most dangerous man in the West, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), although he won’t be around until the end of the movie. Most of the film revolves around the relationship between Alberta and Anna.
Or, it should, but what we mostly get are random skits in which MacFarlane gets to make fun of both the time period and the location in which the film is set. And with MacFarlane’s brand of crude humor, that means that there are going to be lots of sexual and scatological jokes made at its expense. It’s not really about the relationship or the characters; they’re a vehicle through which MacFarlane can make fun of the Wild Wild West.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing if the jokes were good and funny, but they’re often neither. There’s some cleverness here and there, but there isn’t enough to fill a 90-minute movie, let alone one that plays for 116. Many of the jokes are predictable, some go on for far too long, and there are a few that just flat out fail. Like I said, I often like MacFarlane’s brand of humor, but there just isn’t that much to appreciate in A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Part of the problem is that outside of Albert, none of the other characters get a lot to do. Anna is “the girlfriend,” Louise is “the ex,” Foy is “the silly villain,” and Clinch is “the real villain who won’t show up until the end.” Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi play boyfriend and girlfriend, and get one running gag, but are otherwise completely useless. The goal is to take Western archetypes and make fun of them or reinvent them, but MacFarlane doesn’t accomplish this outside of a few choice moments.
Perhaps the most fun one can have with A Million Ways to Die in the West is through the various cameos that are scattered throughout. I don’t want to spoil any of them — although one of the trailers ruined the biggest one that will likely garner the most laughter — but some pretty big names have turned out for single scenes. These cameos might be seen as distracting if the film wasn’t self-aware already, but this is a Seth MacFarlane comedy, so taking us out of the experience isn’t exactly outside of his comfort zone. The cameos add to the film, but are unfortunately some of the funniest moments the movie has to offer us.
Seth MacFarlane is not a particularly good actor. There are a few scenes that are painful to watch simply because he’s in the leading role. He’s better at doing voice work. His comedic timing is strong, but that’s about all he has going for him here. Well, that, and the right “look” for a leading man. This guy’s got it all, huh? He’s funny, he’s good looking, he’s successful behind the scenes — he should just take some more acting lessons or stick to playing animated characters.
Given that MacFarlane’s character is the only one who really gets to do anything, none of the other actors are able to impress. Charlize Theron gets the second most screen time, but I can’t remember a single thing she did of worth. Amanda Seyfreid is completely wasted, Liam Neeson only really appears in the final half hour — and is awesome for his short amount of time on-screen — and none of the other actors are given enough time to do much. Good talent is wasted.
A Million Ways to Die in the West has very little plot, very little in terms of characters, and is very rarely funny. It has a couple of good gags and jokes, but for most of its absurdly long running time, it’s boring and unfunny. The only character that gets anything to do is our lead, but he’s played by the worst actor in the cast. The cameos are funny and some of the potshots the film takes at Westerns are clever, but there are about 15 minutes of good film in this 116-minute endeavor.