Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson
Written By: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed By: Seth MacFarlane
Wether or not you’re amused by A Million Ways to Die in the West, you’ve got to give Seth MacFarlane credit for ingenuity. There’s never been a western spoof quite like this and there aren’t a whole lot of western comedies to begin with – but there certainly hasn’t been one that features the R-rated raunch, scatological humor and crude sexual hijinks that are the staples of 21st century comedy… until now.
This is MacFarlane’s attempt to create a Blazing Saddles for a new generation – and while MacFarlane is no Mel Brooks, as far as laughs go he mostly succeeds. MacFarlane is best known for being the man behind TV’s Family Guy and the box-office smash Ted.
While MacFarlane is a talented and accomplished voiceover actor – being responsible for almost all of the voices on Family Guy and the voice of Ted the crass talking teddy bear – here he’s front and center in his first onscreen role. His leading man stature can be explained by the insane success of Ted, one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies of all time with a worldwide haul of $549 million. That kind of box-office will buy you a starring role as although MacFarlane has almost zero experience with onscreen acting, here he gets top billing among the likes of Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson.
Unfortunately, MacFarlane the actor does some disservice to MacFarlane the writer/director – being the weakest link in his own movie. He’s by no means bad and certainly doesn’t embarrass himself, but he just doesn’t have leading man quality. He’s quite funny and has one of the best voices in the business, but when the script calls for him to do some real acting – he can’t quite emote like a more polished comedic actor would’ve been able to. MacFarlane probably should have cast a seasoned performer (Paul Rudd comes to mind) but you can’t really blame him for wanting to star in his own movie.
The story, taking place in 1882 Arizona, is a farcical sendup of the classic western formula where a ruthless outlaw comes to town threatening the fabric of society, which will eventually lead to a showdown against our hero. But amidst the genre spoofing, there are also gags involving diarrhea, semen, piss and pretty much every other bodily fluid making an appearance in some form. The film also features some surprisingly graphic violence (mostly played for laughs), as the title does indeed indicate that there are many ways to bite the dust in the old west. Heads are crushed, people are set on fire, shot, maimed and MacFarlane doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed.
MacFarlane plays Albert, a poor, cowardly sheep farmer whose just been dumped by the love of his life Louise (Amanda Seyfried). She’s left him for the rich and debonair Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) and we’re told how wealthy he is by his dashing mustache, a facial feature only the very wealthy are able to upkeep. Foy’s mustache is such a point of pride that an entire song and dance number is devoted to it – as is an outrageous sex scene which you’ll just have to witness for yourself.
A mysterious woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town, an accomplished gunslinger who takes a liking to the spastic Albert. When he’s challenged to a duel by Foy, she’ll teach him how to shoot so he can win back his love and stay alive. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna’s abusive husband Clinch (Liam Neeson), a notorious and murderous thief, is on his way into town to wreak havoc. Now Albert has an even bigger problem on his hands as he begins to fall for the wife of the fastest hand in the west.
Though he doesn’t have much screen-time, whenever Neeson does appear, he kills (both comedically and literally). Neeson is clearly having a lot of fun, as is Theron – Oscar winners giddily slumming it for a movie bursting with outrageous stupidity. There are also a slew of brilliantly inspired cameo appearances which would be criminal to spoil.
Another subplot which contains some of the film’s funniest moments features Albert’s best friends, his buddy Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward’s girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), the top prostitute in town. Edward is a virgin, patiently waiting for marriage to do the deed while Ruth services up to 15 customers a day (on a slow day). She also wants to wait to get married before they consummate their love – as they are good Christians after all. Silverman and Ribisi are both very funny, especially Silverman who spews some of the filthiest dialogue of any comedy in recent memory. She describes the sexual debauchery of her job as if innocently recounting the mundane details of a day at the office.
Here’s the thing, A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t a great movie in any cinematic sense, but it is very, very funny. That’s all you can really ask for from a comedy – and on a laugh-per-minute ratio – this absurd thing delivers in spades. MacFarlane has a knack for clever mockery – both in toying with genre conventions and implementing some racially driven social commentary – but he also has a penchant for gratuitous toilet humor, the extremity of which reaches levels of unbelievability.
A Million Ways to Die in the West boasts a strange mix of low-brow humor and wittiness for those who can appreciate both ends of the comedic spectrum. MacFarlane is more interested in making you laugh than he is in telling a cohesive story and although not all of the jokes hit, when they do, they hit hard. This “killer comedy” is a messy, random, absurd and lewd little farce that’ll have you die laughing.