A million jokes fall dead as Seth MacFarlane offers up his second feature film as director, and first as live-action star. We follow MacFarlane’s Albert Stark, a self-proclaimed ‘man out of time’, who is constantly disillusioned by the brutality of living in the Wild West, and is heartbroken due to a recent split with his girlfriend. On paper, the premise of the film looks promising. Taking into account the involvement of an all-star cast, and due to the success of MacFarlane’s previous effort Ted, it was likely that A Million Ways to Die in the West would be a great comedy. This simply makes the final result all the more disappointing, with talented actors being wasted on a poorly conceived script that is full of uninspired jokes.
That’s not to say that all of the jokes completely fail. But for every joke that hits, there’s about twenty that don’t. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the film was edited more in the vein of MacFarlane’s Family Guy TV series, with quicker cuts so that we can move on to the next gag quickly if the last didn’t work so well. Instead, A Million Ways to Die in the West is overly long, and a lot of scenes are unnecessarily drawn-out, with jokes often being repeated way too many times. We’re given the pleasure of seeing Neil Patrick Harris defecate in a hat not just once, but twice. If you didn’t think that seeing a sheep penis was funny the first time, then you get to see four more of them. One of the relationships in the film is entirely based on one joke that is revisited repeatedly and soon grows tired – Sarah Silverman plays a Christian prostitute who wants herself and her virgin boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) to wait until marriage to have sex.
Other cast members include Amanda Seyfried, who plays Stark’s ex-girlfriend, and really is given nothing at all to do here. Neil Patrick Harris’ performance as her new moustachioed boyfriend Foy is one of the few saving graces of the movie, with his reactions to his own jokes being some of the funniest content by far. Clint Eastwood’s turn as ‘the Man with No Name’ from classic western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is riffed on as Liam Neeson portrays bandit Clinch Leatherwood. Neeson, similarly to Seyfried, isn’t given anything particularly funny to do, and instead just seems to represent a basic caricature of a villain. It’s Leatherwood’s wife – played by Charlize Theron – who provides the core romantic entanglement of the film, as we see her befriend Stark and teach him how to shoot a gun. This is where the film enters rom-com territory, as we witness the relationship between Theron’s Anna and MacFarlane’s Stark grow, with Anna continually seeming to find Stark hilarious. The problem is, while Theron may be laughing at all of MacFarlane’s jokes, the laughs for the audience really don’t land at all.
Most of the time, MacFarlane ditches the slightly more intellectual humour of Ted and Family Guy for what is essentially an abundance of fart jokes. Of course, this kind of toilet humour is by no means always terrible – classic Mel Brooks western comedy Blazing Saddles features a genuinely funny scene in which a bunch of cowboys are eating beans while sitting around a fire and blowing wind. The difference is, while Brooks included a scene that accurately mocked a trope that was heavily featured in classic western movies, MacFarlane here is seemingly including fart jokes for the sake of it, and they soon become boring and unnecessary.
While there may be a few redeeming qualities – amongst them some great shots of Monument Valley, and a score that is reminiscent of the quintessential western movies – MacFarlane’s follow-up to Ted ultimately fails, lacking the heart of his previous film. Stark is often an unlikable protagonist, and MacFarlane’s comedic delivery isn’t as strong as it is when he voices animated characters. Let’s hope that Ted 2 fares better.
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014), directed by Seth MacFarlane, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below: