A Million Ways To Die at the Multiplex

Seth MacFarlane follows up Ted with a tepid Western comedy.

Let me get this right out on the table: I’m not a Seth MacFarlane fan. That doesn’t mean I’m a hater, exactly. True, I have no love for Family Guy, which I routinely flip on thinking I’m missing something, only to decide minutes later that no, I’m not. And I thought he blew as an Oscar host. But I generally enjoyed Ted, MacFarlane’s first film about a foulmouthed, weed-smoking teddy bear, which was well shot, featured a very funny performance by Mark Wahlberg, and was a mildly amusing cinematic debut.

Ted was a big hit, which means it’s time for MacFarlane’s sophomore effort, the somewhat dishonestly titled A Million Ways To Die In The West. I expected a rude, vulgar comedy that would twist itself in knots thinking up clever ways to off the characters. It is that movie to some extent, but the best (and most grisly) bits are sadly a sideshow to a rather bland romantic comedy, though one admittedly peppered with quick glimpses of diarrhea and sheep penis.

MacFarlane stars as Albert, a smart but meek sheep farmer in a Western frontier town circa 1880. Despite the setting, Albert has a very 2014 perspective on the Old West (in a very funny scene he lists all the reasons it sucks), one that alienates his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). She quickly breaks up with him and takes up with the local mustache shop owner (Neil Patrick Harris), leaving Albert to mope at the saloon with his pent-up friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi).

It’s there that Albert meets Anna (Charlize Theron) when he saves her from a falling body during a bar fight. Anna’s in town to lay low and wait for her outlaw husband (Liam Neeson), but when her minder (Evan Jones) lands in jail, she starts hanging out with Albert. Anna teaches Albert how to shoot (he has a duel on his schedule), they go to the county fair (“People die at the fair!”), and then a square dance hosted by a recognizable face in one of several amusing cameos. She’s ostensibly helping him win back Louise, but sparks fly and Albert soon finds himself on the run from Anna’s killer hubby.

A Million Ways has some very funny scenes (I particularly enjoyed an hallucinogenic drug trip late in the film), but they are more the exception than the rule. The film chugs along throwing jokes from the screen, but for every winner there are three tired gags surrounding it. The film tosses off a few racial and ethnic jokes that are sure to raise some hackles, but I found them more desperate than offensive. And not particularly funny, which is a problem.

In thinking about the film, it’s really the script by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild that sinks it. A Million Ways looks great and features appealing performances from both Theron and MacFarlane, but the jokes just aren’t there. For his next project, I hope MacFarlane directs someone else’s material. He’s an extremely talented guy who’s just not as good a writer as he is a performer and director.

But what do I know? I’m the guy who doesn’t like Family Guy.

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