By Jess Lomas
May 28, 2014
Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West may succeed more in its uneven sketches and pop culture nods than as a complete film, but for those who enjoy a splash of toilet humour and cheap gags, there’s much to like here.
Set in the 1880s Old West, Albert (MacFarlane) is a cowardly sheep farmer who’d rather talk his way out of a duel than draw his pistol. When girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) replaces him with the successful and smarmy owner of the moustachery, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert sets out to win her back. He finds help from the newly arrived Anna (Charlize Theron), who unbeknownst to him is laying low in town waiting for her husband, the notorious gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson), to return.
The central plot – the classic ‘boy loses girl and tries to win her back at any cost’ – is basic at best, and what you might expect from any ’80s teen flick. MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild seem more concerned with cramming as many jokes into the movie as possible, often in the Family Guy-style of tipping the hat to celebrities and pop culture in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it manner. To go into specifics about these would ruin the enjoyment that can come from spotting these references sporadically inserted throughout.
However, MacFarlane may be wise to stay behind the camera in future, as he simply doesn’t have the chops to carry the lead here, and as the opening credits rolled and his name appeared under producer, writer and director, one could consider the Family Guy creator to be overly ambitious. His direction is admirable; the feature, although a tad too long, doesn’t lag often, and MacFarlane’s fondness for the period and the Western genre comes through clearly, as does his appreciation for a good musical number.
The flick thrives on three key performances; Neil Patrick Harris’ old-timey jerk, Giovanni Ribisi’s Edward, the naïve friend of Albert, and Sarah Silverman as the chirpy prostitute Ruth, who won’t sleep with boyfriend Edward until they’re married, because they’re Christians. The cast as a whole is hard to fault, creating an enjoyable comedy that could be described as hit or miss depending on your attitude to this style of humour.
There’s no depth to what you see on screen here: MacFarlane is simply doing what he does best; delivering cheap laughs as he continues to try and push the boundaries.
A Million Ways to Die in the West arrives in cinemas May 29, 2014.