Albert (Seth MacFarlane) is the biggest coward in the small Frontier town of Old Stump. When he talks his way out of a gun fight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him, making Albert determined to win her back. It’s around then that a mysterious woman, Anna (Charlize Theron) blows into town, and strikes up a friendship with our cowardly hero.
The Western is a notoriously difficult style of film to make, and it is obvious that MacFarlane has a lot of love for the genre, having co-written, directed and produced A Million Ways to Die in the West, but filling the movie with anachronistic language and casting himself in the lead role may have been a step too far.
MacFarlane is at a distinct disadvantage as lead actor; his voice is so familiar to fans of American Dad!, Family Guy and The Cleveland Show that it is immediately hard to reconcile the fact that the voice of Brian and Peter Griffin is coming out of a human man. As well as this, MacFarlane relies on slapstick and one-liners to create a character and provide humour, neither of which particularly work. Charlize Theron does not actually have a lot to do here – despite being billed second after MacFarlane – other than shoot well, laugh and look scared. Liam Neeson gets his bad guy on and obviously has fun with it, Sarah Silverman plays a pious prostitute and Giovanni Ribisi her devout yet horny boyfriend.
As well as this, Amanda Seyfried plays a watery girlfriend and Neil Patrick Harris an evil, moustachioed, girlfriend stealing villain. There are plenty of famous faces on display in cameo roles, with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lloyd and Ryan Reynolds getting the biggest sniggers of the movie.
On the outside, the story seems like a good idea, but once we get down to it, the clichéd Western vibe is offset with vulgar one-liners, penis jokes and poop jokes. Sure, this is what we had to contend with in Ted, but while MacFarlane’s delivery works on TV, like his ill-fated stint at the Oscars, he is clearly floundering here. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who have one thing to do, and do it repeatedly. The trouble with all of this is that it’s really not funny. Not even a little bit. Throughout the film, it feels as though everyone is trying to hard to be ‘funny’, and never allow the comedy – such as it is – to properly flow.
MacFarlane directs a film that is badly paced and frankly, a mess. The one-liners and sight gags never truly land, and MacFarlane seems to be caught up in his own hype, believing himself to be funnier than he really is. On the positive side, the cinematography and score are lovely, Monument Valley looks great and Doc Brown is alive and well.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is a film that is filled with puerile and childish attempts at humour that never really land. The fantastic cast is led by an inexperienced actor (MacFarlane) and are never really given a chance to shine. The shtick quickly wears off, leaving A Million Ways to Die in the West a mess with a decent dance number, some great cameos and some lovely cinematography. If it’s Western spoofing you want, dig out Blazing Saddles again.