A Million Ways to Die in the West finds a dozen ways to laugh
A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth MacFarlane’s epic western comedy presented a million ways to kill a joke. Fortunately, in the barrage of gags enough stuck the landing to keep the film from being terrible. Somehow I suspect MacFarlane understood exactly what he was doing. Comedic the film was all over the map, granting equal opportunity to find enjoyable hilarity. The mixture of highbrow and lowbrow humor, often within the same joke, lends texture to the mix to help it stick. Within the frame of the film, you will quickly find witty intelligent humor, goofball ridiculous humor, crude bodily function, and a steady stream of classic slapstick. There are also strong flavors of others films mixed in. In some cases the homage is beyond blatant, which is good otherwise it would appear that MacFarlane was simply ripping off someone else’s material. The borrowed elements, which I should add were used to great effect, stretch beyond the gags to the setting and cinematography. It was wonderfully filmed, using the landscape, both real and painted, to great effect.
A Million Ways to Die in the West stars Seth MacFarlane as Albert Stark, an incompetent sheep farmer that hates just about everything about The West. When he talks his way out of a fight, but is shot anyway his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him. Seeking consolation, he turns to his best, virginal, friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman). When a newcomer starts a violent brawl in the saloon Albert heroically saves the new girl in town, Anna (Charlize Theron) from being crushed by falling cowboys. Their friendship quickly grows as they plan to make Louise jealous by showing up to the fair together. While at the fair, Albert challenges Louise’s new boyfriend, the mustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to a pistol duel. Determined to stop her new friend from perishing, horrifically, on a public street, she takes on the task of teaching him how to fire a gun. Everything is going great until Anna’s husband, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Nelson), the most dangerous man in the territory, shows up intending to kill the man who has been kissing his wife. Albert, being a smart man, runs away, even though he knows Clinch will kill Anna, and probably all his friends if he doesn’t come back to face him. After a night of soul searching with the natives Albert returns to town to face off against Clinch Leatherwood.
Scattered throughout the film are diverse and amusing cameos, such as Christopher Lloyd, Gilbert Gottfried, Ewan McGregor, Alec Sulkin, Jimmy Hart, Tait Fletcher, Bill Maher, Ryan Reynolds, and Jamie Foxx. Some are bigger than others are, but they are all amusing treats for the observant audience member. Along with the cameos, the observant audience can spot pieces of other films, such as, Blazing Saddles. I was on the cusp of believing these elements cluttered the film too much, offered too much distraction to the story, before I realized that was part of the joke. There is not one single element of this film that is not intended to be funny, on some level, and sometimes that level is just what might be funny to the filmmaker. This is the single biggest fault with the film. Sometimes the audience is left out of the joke. An audience deprived of a punch line is hilarious to everyone except the audience. That might be the fault of the audience, I noticed there were a few groups that didn’t laugh with everyone else, and overhearing them on the way out a few of the punch lines soared over their heads. A few didn’t laugh because they don’t find crude humor particularly funny, and some didn’t laugh because are devoid of a sense of humor and hate comedy. Unfortunately, I can’t blame every failed joke on the audience, some just fell flat, and some splattered in the hat.
A Million Ways to Die in the West, written and directed by Seth MacFarlane was ultimately enjoyable soliciting multiple genuine laughs in spite of its shortcomings. 3.5 out of 5