[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00JKE4UGC][/pullquote] Stepping out from behind the camera, the creative force behind Family Guy and American Dad Seth MacFarlane takes his first leading role in A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is an anachronistic man in the Wild West. Seemingly aware of the injustice and terrible conditions unlike everyone else, he struggles to live up to the burly image of a traditional rough-and-tumble man. When his obvious cowardice loses him his dream girl (Amanda Seyfried) to the owner of the local moustachery (Neil Patrick Harris) he must call upon the aid of mysterious stranger Anna (Charlize Theron) to win the heart of his fair lady. However a blossoming romance between Albert and Anna stumbles upon the revelation that she is already married to the toughest outlaw in the area, Clinch (Liam Neeson).
Hoping to follow the success of his directorial debut Ted, MacFarlane has cleverly used the popular foul-mouthed teddy bear in the advertising for this film. This is clearly to alleviate any confusion about the content of this quirky take on America’s Old West. The real surprise is just how lame A Million Ways to Die in the West actually is.
MacFarlane whose comedy has been known to push boundaries. Whether perfectly judged or not, he always goes for the jugular, never apologising and always going for the biggest laughs. What a disappointment then, that here he seems content to play it safe, providing some big laughs sparsely scattered, but relying too keenly on a cheap and unfunny fart gag. Overall presenting an underwhelming farce dressed up as a satire.
At nearly two hours in length, there is never enough actual narrative to sustain the long running time. The lack of laughs and, despite what the title may reference, deaths also highlight just how stretched thin everything is. MacFarlane is also a problem, while he is a clearly very talented entertainer, it takes more to be a leading man than a planted stand-up routine in place of dialogue. It’s actually an insult to the incredible supporting cast around him.
Charlize Theron who is often congratulated for her stellar dramatic work, excels as the perfect comic foil for MacFarlane, while Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris each threaten to steal the show throughout. But even with these good performances, there’s a startling lack of activity for them to actually get involved with. Theron’s Anna falls in love with hapless Albert for no other reason than the plot says she should, while Neeson, who at least looks motivated to act, rarely offers a reason for his actions other than ‘he’s a bad guy.’ It’s lazy script-writing from a man whom we’ve come to expect so much more. His pop culture references at least survive intact through a string of brilliant Wild West cameos that bring respite from the soul-crushing drudgery.
It seems odd to expect so much more from a director with only one previous credit to his name, but after years of genius comedy through his television shows, this really is the case for MacFarlane. The basic premise of a man out of time is fantastic in scope, but MacFarlane’s modern speak works as a huge detrimental factor to everything else. With the humour and heart worn out in the first half, A Million Ways to Die in the West limps to a disappointing finale, feeling every bit the 2-hour swollen mess it is.