Monday 2 June 2014

Film Review: A Million Ways To Die In The West

A Million Ways To Die In The West is a Western comedy directed, produced, co-written and starring Seth MacFarlane, a.k.a the guy behind Family Guy and Ted. It's patchy, and certainly not for everyone, but a decent attempt at parodying a long-dead genre. Can I get a yeehaw?

MacFarlane plays a meek and cowardly sheep farmer (geddit, he's sheepish - heh heh) called Albert Stark. Albert is down on his luck after splitting with his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). This might make him sound kinda lame, but the great part is, he's not unlikeable with Seth selling the meek, but still funny and witty, nature of the character really well.

Albert meets Anna (Charlize Theron), a mysterious outsider, and finds himself facing off against the most villainous gunslinger in the West, Clinch Lockerwood (Liam Neeson). With Albert a hopeless wimp, Anna tasks herself with schooling him in preparation for his deadly duel with Clinch  - cue training montage!

The rest of the cast is pretty impressive; MacFarlane aside, Charlize Theron plays the love interest who is new in town. Theron was actually the best character in my opinion, complimenting Albert's shyness by being sassy and strong-willed. Theron and MacFarlane share a great on-screen chemistry, and this goes some way towards evening out the often clunky script. Neil Patrick Harris is on-board as Foy, Anna's new, and impressively moustachioed, boyfriend. He's also great, but fairly two-dimensional. The same can be said for Liam Neeson, who makes for an otherwise good sneering villain.

Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman play Edward and Ruth, a couple with some romantic complications, which is putting it lightly what with her being a prostitute and all. I thought they both did a pretty good job. Again, it's hard to fault their performances and they make the most out of the uneven scripting.

There are some elements of the movie that feel like MacFarlane is just ticking off Western tropes for easy gags; bar fight? Check. Native Americans? Check. Barn dance? Check. Some fall flat on their face, but every now and again a joke will work out and keep things chugging along nicely. This means that whilst the writing isn't amazingly original, MacFarlane does a good enough job of sending up a genre so easily identifiable. The long sweeping shots of the West, the title cards and score - maybe it's my own love of the genre coming through, but throwing these elements into the movie elevated it just that little bit extra.

As you can expect from a MacFarlane production, the jokes are often crude and aimed at a teen market. Sex, farts, boobs, dicks - what more did you expect? I found I laughed more at the silly referential humour as it didn't lean as heavily on the unnecessary crudeness. I mean, the odd fart joke is okay for an episode of Family Guy, but when a 2 hour long feature length milks it for all it's worth, it gets old fast.

This isn't to say the film is dull or unfunny. Like I said, there are some flashes of brilliance, especially one amazing cameo that made me grin from ear to ear. And whilst the script isn't on fire with searing hot dialogue, the comedic ability of the cast kept the audience chuckling along.

Other criticisms include the skit-like nature of the narrative - the story is fairly thin, with MacFarlane and Theron hopping merrily from one silly set-up to the next. Again, sometimes it works (the clever cameos), other times it doesn't (the fact that Liam Neeson is surprisingly absent for most of the film). I actually found that this film was kind of long, and felt that more could have been chopped off here and there to make it tighter and less scatter-shot.

In terms of direction, A Million Ways suffers from something that a lot comedies do nowadays - a general lack of imagination. The film relies heavily on the cast and one-liners to deliver the comedy, with the direction and editing being poorly used to frame them. Much like other movies like Bad Neighbours or Anchorman 2 for example, A Million Ways is very formulaic in this sense, containing none of the spark film-makers like Chris Miller, Phil Lord or Edgar Wright bring to their films. This might sound overly critical, but being inventive and out-there with the use of framing and editing can really add something extra to a comedy film. As it stands, A Million Ways To Die In The West is very colour-by-numbers.

At the end of the day, your enjoyment of A Million Ways will depend upon your own interest in goofy Saturday Night Live-esque comedies with silly humour and thinly written characters. Usually, I wouldn't go in for this kind of thing, but enough elements worked with this film that made it worth checking out.

The Verdict: 6/10

It sure ain't Blazing Saddles, but A Million Ways To Die In The West is actually a pretty fun ride for a dumb summer comedy. Like the lead characters' shooting, the jokes are very hit and miss, but for what it's worth, I liked that MacFarlane went out on a limb and sent-up a genre not so popular nowadays. Kudos for that, if nothing else. 


  1. Nice review. I can agree that the filming wasn't entirely inspired, as I noticed quite a few very basic shots all throughout. However, I enjoyed myself with this one. It was funny, which is all I really wanted out of it anyways. :)

    1. Yeah exactly :) I think that comedies in general lack any real imagination in terms of direction - especially things like The Heat or The Internship. I'd like to see more mixing it up with the camera, like you would see in The World's End or something like that. Thanks for commenting Chris!

  2. Release pending in India. Is it not as funny as Ted?

    1. Wasn't such a fan of Ted, so I'd say it's better ;) It's getting mixed reviews, but it's a good-enough comedy, if slightly ruined by some of the trailers.



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