“A Million Ways To Die In The West” – a film review by Gary Chew
Seth MacFarlane tries a million ways to make you laugh with his new movie, but succeeds in doing so with a number much smaller than that. Seth — that “Ted” guy — has an impressive cast on board to give “A Million Ways To Die In The West” zing … that carries much more weight than the “zany” with which Seth has glutted his script. MacFarlane has placed himself in the lead as a local sheep rancher who’d rather live in San Francisco. Call him Albert.
Liam Neeson: bad guy with big, dark hat and long barreled pistol (Clinch). Charlize Theron: sexy, mature, mysterious woman (Anna); new to town; can ride and shoot; has soft spot for local sheep rancher. (You already know his name.) Sarah Silverman: local saloon prostitute (Ruth) having longstanding, non-carnal romantic relationship with local man who’s never had sex. Giovanni Ribisi: local dude; a virgin. Call him Edward. Amanda Seyfried: another younger sexy woman (Louise); has grown tired of her relationship with Albert; looking for more “successful” male companion. Neil Patrick Harris: local successful businessman who owns a cosmetic shop for men with mustaches (Foy).
Pretty funny set up — for sure — makes for some pretty funny situations and dialogue, some of the time. However, MacFarlane’s use of superbly blue dialogue comes so frequently that it deadens the effect I think the director/producer/star intended. Too many four letter words of various length; too many references to body parts; excessive conversation about less than normal sexual activity. It’s funny but — Hey Seth! — give us a bit of a break, okay?
“A Million Ways To Die In The West” is actually a heavy-handed lampoon of everything that is “America: The Old West.” Everything of that era is made fun of, over and over. Some of it’s pretty funny and rapidly moves past inside gags a’plenty. One of them has someone saying “Mila Kunis.” Ms. Kunis was the female lead in MacFarland’s “Ted.”
What’s impressive about MacFarlane’s “spoofery” are the visuals and the music, as well as those great old-fashioned graphics used for titles and credits. The Southwestern vistas of the U.S. are as good as ever I’ve seen on a big screen. Big bucks cinematography adds to the location shoots. Joel McNeely’s music, constructed from the unforgettable Jerome Morross’s “Big Country” score, is simply great. There are even swatches of Aaron Copland in mellower scenes.
One of those is quite touching. It’s between MacFarlane and Theron — outside her hotel in the dusty street. It stands out and away from the silliness that pervades the film. The couple, Albert and Anna, realize they care for one another. Their conversation and embraces are played … serious. Theron sort of owns the screen when her image is on it as she acts her part. Theron’s displayed confidence is always winning.
Oh yes, a Peyote Moment being held by Albert and a small group of semi-hostile Native-Americans plays well when it slips into what Albert experiences when the peyote has made it way to Albert’s brain. You won’t want to be in the lobby for popcorn when this scene unfolds. I remember it as being in the 3rd act.
“A Million Ways To Die In The West” doesn’t cause any saddles to suddenly burst in flames, but it does come from what I call that “Brooksian” mold of really goofy, funny, entertaining cinema. The only thing MacFarlane has left out of his loony picture are, alas, Madeline Kahn — and the Count Basie Band playing “April In Paris” just outside town on a hot afternoon in the desert. And with that image, I have planted well in your mind, I believe, what to expect from this latest in the oeuvre of Seth MacFarlane.