Rib-tickling yuks and crafty one-liners. A Million Ways to Die in the West is Seth MacFarlane unplugged – wait, is Seth MacFarlane ever NOT unplugged? This misbegotten question is being ridiculously trudged up in reviews everywhere: Is MacFarlane’s western comedy better than Mel Brooks’ legendary “Blazing Saddles?” Of course not, but who cares! There’s dozens of different laughs in MacFarlane’s 1800’s Monument Valley, Arizona set western comedy. I’m also thrilled by something else totally tangent: This is maybe the third movie I’ve seen in 2014 that doesn’t use the shaky cam. I can’t believe we’ve arrived at a point where we have to wait for a MacFarlane comedy to get classically framed compositions at the movies.
There’s plenty I could nitpick here, but I don’t care. I have to forgive too many scenes of Seth MacFarlane stammering to Charlize Theron about how amazing she is. Many will have a problem with that repetitiveness. I allow myself to move on. Anyway, Theron’s sharpshooter character Anna comes to town to mysteriously befriend MacFarlane’s nerdy, smart-talking Albert. The forlorn MacFarlane loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried, playing snooty) in the early scenes. MacFarlane – whose stand-up emcee acting is no different than Woody Allen in his early funny ones from the 1970’s – thinks he can win her back, and then gradually sees he has a shot at the more astounding beauty that is Charlize Theron.
Let’s look at that title again. There are several hysterical yukky deaths in this movie. The town has a good-natured annual fair that is never not beset by sudden unforeseen deaths. Side-splittingly funny it was to me. I could have used more of these scenes. There’s a terrific hoe-down musical number about the conceit of Neil Patrick Harris’ mustache, MacFarlane’s rival. The scene is great, but I would have thrown a death into the musical number while they were at it. MacFarlane has a second rival in the final act, played by Liam Neeson, doing a terrific job playing the straight role as the menacing black-shirt gunfighter. I sat there spellbound wondering if MacFarlane had a clever way for his character to defeat his nemesis, and I was not disappointed.
We must arrive at the two areas at which prudish audiences will have problems with the movie from the get-go (but probably still pay to attend anyway). The crudest humor of the movie involves Sarah Silverman as a saloon whore, who loudly retells about her ten or more customers’ exploits during the course of the day to her beau Giovanni Ribisi (who has never had sex with her). It’s below vulgarity, it’s cretinous… or outrageous, it’s how you see it. “Blazing Saddles” had humor just as vulgar, it’s just that MacFarlane has more of it to throw at you. I didn’t mind, I had a gas. Also, the anachronistic humor will throw some people off and they will never forgive it.
You know what anachronistic is, right? In this case, the characters are adapt to modern-day speak with a 21st century wise edge not in chronology with the western times. The anachronism by MacFarlane is intentional so he can satirize and comment on how the west was backwards and stillborn in its rigid attitudes. For instance, it allows him to make fun of 19th century family portraits where subjects had frozen and sullen poses. It allows him to have his hero comment on disease and cancer, work-related casualties, and premature deaths with sagacious hindsight.
From Seth MacFarlane, the maker of TV’s “Family Guy,” this outrageous and irreverent comedy that is “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a little long, but it’s a smart comedy. Yes, I said smart comedy. I also say “Family Guy” is a smart – actually brilliant TV comedy – either you see things with me at this point or you don’t. But yes, it’s too long. Yet if it hadn’t been that long, and had the studio forced upon cuts, then we probably wouldn’t have gotten to a smoke-out scene with MacFarlane and Wes Studi. Look out for several other droll cameos that scream of film reference.
116 Minutes. Rated R.
WESTERN COMEDY / CRUDE HUMOR / WEEKEND VIEWING DEBAUCHERY
Film Cousins: “Cat Ballou” (1965); “Blazing Saddles” (1974); “Love and Death” (1975); “Back to the Future Part III” (1990).