Perhaps you remember “Ted,” the 2012 breakout hit about a foul-mouthed teddy bear, that also somehow landed Seth MacFarlane the Oscars gig for 2013 and raised his star power a couple levels. And by the tone of the preceding sentence, you are probably foretelling how this review may treat MacFarlane’s new movie “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”
An admittedly original twist on the Western genre, the film follows Albert Stark (MacFarlane), who cant quite get settled in 1882 Arizona, as the time seems bent on killing all of its inhabitants, despite their newfound longevity to age 35. When Albert’s girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for the pompous mustache storeowner (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert summons up the courage to challenge him to a duel, with newfound support from Anna (Charlize Theron), a newcomer to town. She then proceeds to help him learn how to shoot, with a hilarious montage of efforts than involve Albert more often than not hit with the object he’s supposed to be shooting, or just plain missing it.
When Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the most terrifying outlaw in the region, and the mysterious Anna’s husband, comes to town searching for her, Albert is put to the test when his hero chops, previously denied by himself, are needed to save the town, and get the girl.
What is funny about the movie is its lack of care with the setting. 1882 Arizona may be where this all takes place, but it could be just as well taking place in the streets of Frontier City, where actors are speaking with present-day jargon, despite the costumes and the tumbleweed around them. MacFarlane makes this a parody about the entire genre of the Western, from the outlaws, who can be talked down for a time, to a prostitute (Sarah Silverman) with morals that apply only to her boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi), and with the numerous ways that someone can die, to a point that his character Albert makes the statement that they should all “wear coffins for clothes.”
The cast outside of MacFarlane shines with their minute parts. Theron is left with her shooting skills, Seyfried with her desire to better herself, and Neeson is indignantly left bottom up in the sand of the desert, after stealing scenes with his Irish accent and out of place serious attitude that is played up for laughs.
If you can avoid the blatant jokes made at the expense of races and religions alike, then you might enjoy “A Million Ways.” I can’t decide if I want to give the film props for hiring Native American actors to blatantly perpetuate a racial stereotype, or if that is something else that may belong in the cons column of the film.
It wasn’t quite my sense of humor, but some of the situational comedy and a few of the jokes do land well enough to make the film enjoyable outside of the glaring discrimination.
With that being said, I’m giving “A Million Ways to Die in the West” a B. It was an interesting effort, with a unique twist with the setting, actors that play their parts well, and an effort to be funny. There were even a few surprise cameos that generated laughs. The film is rated R for strong crude and sexual humor, language, violence and drug material.