'A Million Ways to Die in the West'
(Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, et al / PG-13 / 116 mins)
Overview: After cowardly Albert backs out of a gunfight because he's never fired his gun, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man -- the proprietor of the town's foremost moustache emporium. When he accidentally saves the life of a mysterious and beautiful woman, she helps him find his courage and learn to stand up for himself.
Verdict: To write, direct, produce and star in your own film is sometimes called, in Hollywood parlance, a “quadruple threat”. The phrase is meant as a compliment – the threat being your likelihood of awards nominations, if you're a Warren Beatty or a George Clooney. But when that threat is emanating from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and Ted, it feels an awful lot more real, like a loaded gun at your back.
Ted was hugely successful, largely well-received, and almost evilly terrible. There’s no way that his meandering attempt at a comedy western can scrape lower than that, or outdo his stint as an Oscar host in toxic complacency. Coming at it from this angle of negative expectation, A Million Ways to Die in the West has a defeated sort of feel, a merely stuck quality. It’s FLATLY atrocious – just so much unamusing tumbleweed.
MacFarlane’s making no effort to push the envelope, which is something of a relief, but nor is he winning anyone around to his increasingly desperate stylings as a nerd-turned-bully. Nosirree. Casting himself as a downtrodden sheep-herder on the frontier in 1882 could almost count as a joke itself; MacFarlane, who has a personal net worth of some $150m, is no one’s idea of a plucky underdog. And every move the script makes to get us on his side has quite the opposite effect: other characters burn to death, expire from flatulence, and, in one case, have their skull caved in by a block of ice, but I just found myself wondering why a jerk like MacFarlane kept getting away scot-free.
The other performances are better, but that isn’t saying a great deal; few seem sure whether to go the fully spoofy Blazing Saddles route or play it straight. Charlize Theron grins and bears the whole thing as the sharp-shooting wife of a notorious outlaw (played by Liam Neeson), inexplicably becoming smitten with MacFarlane’s Albert, who has just been (understandably) dumped by his snooty-pants girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried). Neil Patrick Harris drums up a modicum of moustache-twirling camp value as Seyfried’s new beau.
All are moved to and fro by MacFarlane like perfectly obliging pawns, but nothing of even minor interest happens. However, if you want to find out how much scope the Old West contains for jokes about violent bowel movements, this is very much a movie for you.