Movies: A Million Ways To Die In The West

Seth MacFarlane’s highly anticipated (by people who are MacFarlane fans) western spoof has arrived and has been greeted largely with silence. MacFarlane’s earlier work (including Ted and Family Guy) have been mostly very funny and — for better or worse — that led to high expectations for A Million Ways To Die In The West.

Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer who, at the moment, is on the lam.
Photo: Lorey Sebastian – © 2014 – Universal Pictures

Co-writer (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild)/director MacFarlane has assembled a first-rate cast here. Joining him onscreen are Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Wes Studi and Sarah Silverman. But, with the bar for comedy westerns set sky-high by Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles in 1974, is obviously too high (although there’s one very brief vignette that traces its roots directly to that classic). Sadly, nothing in this movie blazes.

Now, it’s not all bad. There are a few amusing moments in this story of sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) in 1882 Arizona. Early on, Albert is dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried). The reason, she tells him, is “I have to work on me.”

In short order he meets Anna (Theron), who neglects to mention she’s married to Clinch (Neeson) a notorious gunfighter with a charming Irish brogue. In short order Anna has taken up with Foy (Harris), the fatuous jerk who owns the local moustachery, the store where one goes for moustache supplies. Albert’s best friend Edward (Ribisi) is in love with Ruth, the local prostitute who insists on celibacy before marriage because “we’re good Christians.”

For much of A Million Ways to Die in the West we’re watching Albert’s attempts to win back Louise. But, we never see — except for her beauty — any qualities in her that might make Albert try so hard. She comes off as vapid. When Foy challenges Albert to a duel, Anna coaches him and we can clearly see a strong connection growing between the two.

The better moments include MacFarlane’s psychedelic vision when he imbibes a native-American peyote potion given to him by Cochise (Studi) and a scene with a male chorus singing of the glories of facial hair in an updated version of Stephen Foster’s “The Moustache Song.”

Written and directed (and, even, starring) someone else, A Million Ways to Die in the West might have fared better. But MacFarlane has demonstrated his tremendous ability to be tremendously funny. Expectations are high and this falls flat. It is, however, amusing in moments. But, bear in mind that there are a couple of gruesome deaths and lots of sex.

To sample a bit of A Million Ways — beware the language and violence in it — and to see if it’s to your liking, check out the trailer which was, by the way, criticized by some reviewers for containing all the funny bits