A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
The seemingly binary nature of the Internet pisses me off sometimes. If you want your voice heard on the Net, you either have to unconditionally love a thing or hate it from the very core of your being. People seek out opinions that agree with their own and it all becomes a massive, self-sustaining circlejerk. Having said that, I suppose there is a third category of people who are pussies and calling for a happy medium, one which I’m very aware I belong to in this instance. So, Seth MacFarlane. I don’t mind him. I think he’s a talented voice actor and singer. Family Guy is alright occasionally and I genuinely like American Dad. Ted was alright too. It didn’t make me laugh that much, but it worked in other ways. Anyway, I feel it necessary to qualify what I think of him, because this is his film. He stars, he co-wrote it and he directed it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the soundtrack is based on melodies originally whistled by MacFarlane. Also, it’s fucking terrible and I hate it from the very core of my being.
“Hey, dude, you really shouldn’t drink and horse.”
MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who hates living in the Old West. He’s dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) in favour of the moustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) and is struggling to find something to live for. Enter Anna (Charlize Theron) a new arrival to the town with a secret connection to the deadly outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson). After Albert foolishly challenges Foy to a duel, having never fired a gun before, Anna takes it upon herself to train Albert to give him a fighting chance and to win back Louise’s favour. Then words are said, nearly all of them unfunny. The basic premise is Albert going round and talking about how unsafe and horrible the West is. That’s the joke. It’s played out by the 10 minute mark and just keeps going. Albert is a know-it-all, almost omniscient character who seems to be the only one who realises the shitty time he lives in. MacFarlane is not a good leading man. He’s oddly stiff in the role. There’s one scene where Albert is incredibly drunk. MacFarlane can do a funny, slurred voice, but there was a disconnect between the on-point voice and his acting drunk. The cast around MacFarlane are great, just not really given anything funny to say. Charlize Theron is good, Liam Neeson is fun and Neil Patrick Harris is having a ball hamming it up as Foy.
A Million Ways to Die in the West suffers from a sledgehammer approach. For every vaguely funny gag, there’s a deluge of thudding, anti-hilarious jokes that don’t work. Sometimes, they’ll take something semi-amusing and then overdo it, either by repetition or overexplanation. Whilst not particularly funny, there’s one bit that outlined this for me. OK, so Ruth, Sarah Silverman’s prostitute character has had a booking for anal sex with a client, we cut to later in the evening and she and Giovanni Ribisi’s character are comforting Albert. Albert invites them to sit down on the porch. Ruth goes to, but then opts to stand. I’m sure you can figure out why. Didn’t make me laugh, but it’s an understandable, simple gag. However, the film doesn’t trust you with getting it and so after declining to sit, she says “I need to rest my asshole” or something to that effect. You see how that’s less funny? The film thinks you’re a total fucking moron and has to spell out everything. The entire film is like this. It’s terrified that Joe Pleb isn’t going to laugh at every single joke, so it feels the need to signpost and explain why a thing should be funny.
The script is stale and lazy as fuck. It’s as predictable as a metronome. Love triangle. Person A is helping Person B to get over Person C. B gets to a certain point and realises C isn’t for them and A was “the one” all along. Cue credits and barf. There’s also juvenile wish fufillment element to it. Albert is the classic “nice guy” and Louise has dumped him in favour of an rich asshole. Then the traffic-haltingly beautiful Anna defends Albert and falls in love with him. It’s not hard to see why people are calling this a MacFarlane ego trip.
It feels hastily assembled. In one scene, Albert takes some hallucinogenic drugs with an Indian tribe and goes on a mystic trip, supposedly showing him “the path”. However, before all that, Albert flashes back to his childhood and we see various scenes of him growing up. It really felt like they couldn’t fit these jokes anywhere else so they just bunged them into the vision sequence because drugs=funny, right guys? MacFarlane’s magnum dopus Family Guy is like 90% pop culture references, and it feels like by choosing the Old West, MacFarlane’s distanced himself from his comedy crutch. That’s not to say the film is completely devoid of them, though. There’s a Back to the Future III reference in the form of Christopher Lloyd appearing as Doc Brown. Whilst it was great to see Lloyd as Doc, there’s no actual joke other than the “random” nature of it. Much like the anal sex joke, the film ruins what could have been a neat little reference (Doc hastily covers up the DeLorean and mutters something about it being a weather experiment) with a nail-on-the-head “Great Scott!” for no real reason. Also Ryan Reynolds is in it for 5 seconds and gets shot. This is apparently a joke.
“I’m not the hero. I’m the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt; that’s who I am.”
What makes this all doubly annoying is that it’s shot and made extremely well. It looks like a legit Western and has some awesome shots of Monument Valley. It’s a slick production, which makes it a massive shame that the script is toss on a biscuit. It makes it harder to give the film the one star rating it deserves, but fuck it. I’m sure they were well paid for their work and weren’t paid much less than MacFarlane with his three paycheques as an actor, writer and director (cough). Fuck this film.