A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West manages to kill comedy and the western film genre with one bullet.

Over the top and under the belt, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a comedy-western, that in part, stays true to the title. While the narration is a verbose and often morbid illustration on countless ways you could get killed in the Wild West, do not overlook the possibility that you could also die in your seat for no other reason than sheer boredom.

Best known for creating, scripting and voicing characters in TV’s Family Guy and The Cleveland Show – animations that are both outrageous and equally hilarious – Seth McFarlane does a quadruple take in this film as writer-director-producer while also playing the lead role. Having done the same in 2012’s Ted, about a not-so-cuddly yet hilariously charismatic teddy bear, McFarlane tries his hand at a western but can’t seem to decide if it’s a parody or homage to the western film genre. And that is the first stumbling block in a long line of stumbling blocks. With an opening credits scene overlooking the Grand Canyon, ala Sergio Leone, the setting is 1882 Arizona. McFarlane plays Albert Stark – a coward, a pessimist and a sheep farmer who can’t tend to his own flock. After chickening out of a gun fight, Albert loses his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the mustachioed Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the wealthy owner of… you guessed it, a mustachery.  Drowning his sorrows in a bar one night, Albert describes to his only friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), how the West is exactly as described by the film’s title. Sure enough, a bar fight ensues and more people die. This is also when Albert saves the life of Anna (Charlize Theron), a beautiful loner with a mysterious past. In turn, Anna teaches Albert a thing or two about sharp-shooting, and a whole lot on how to be a man. But just as they fall for each other, Anna’s badass husband and bandit Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) rides into town, resulting in another high-noon shoot out. Can Albert chicken his way out of this one?

With hundreds of crude and often rude gags, A million Ways to Die in the West kills itself in the first half hour with at least three flatulence jokes that goes flat even before it rips; All before one character shows you how to go to the toilet (twice) when there’s no toilet around. In putting the ‘R’ in outrageous, it’s ok to be perverted if the result is overpowering hilarity. We’ve seen this before in Ted, but how do you explain going from whimsical wit to cringe-worthy toilet humor? Some would call it dumb or even juvenile but I have to say that McFarlane has dented his pedigree as the highest paid TV writer with shoddy and quite frankly, lazy writing. In addition to several racial, sexist and pop-culture gags that may or may not hit the funny bone, McFarlane’s script suffers from various plot points that are left abandoned. Maybe I didn’t get it the first time but one unexplained joke has Ribisi’s Edward say that he is a virgin but engaged to the town prostitute (Sarah Silverman as Ruth) who beds up to ten men on a slow day. Ruth retorts to saving sex for marriage because she is Christian. This and many more subplots appear to have no relevance if not just for bloating the run time.

All said and done, if ever there is a highlight in the film, it would have to be the countless cameos throughout. Remember, McFarlane plays a coward who gets called “Yellow” all the time, so expect more than one reference to Marty McFly (Michael J. fox) in Back to the Future III. Other cameos are mere split second appearances but if you blink you miss them. Whether a parody or homage, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a low blow for comedy with laughs inversely proportionate to the title. And if this is an attempt at reviving the western genre, I seriously doubt it has an ounce of inspiration for other film makers. That stagecoach rode into the sunset a long time ago!

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.