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The Western Deserves to Live, Not A Million Ways to Die

The Western Deserves to Live, Not <i>A Million Ways to Die</i>

DVD Release Date: October 7, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: May 30, 2014
Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 116 min.
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neal Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman

Some genres are easier to keep down than others. The Western, once a staple of classic Hollywood cinema, peaked in the 1960s and all but disappeared from screens after director Michael Cimino, hot off his 1978 Best Picture-winning The Deer Hunter, nearly bankrupted MGM with the disastrous Heaven's Gate in 1980. The Western wouldn't re-emerge as a cinematic force until Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves (1990) and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992)—two more Best Picture winners—helped the genre regain respectability and box-office muscle.

Even so, Westerns have remained relatively few and far between during the past two decades, and the closest we get to a traditional big-screen Western this summer is A Million Ways to Die in the West, a parody from Seth MacFarlane. The film is the comedian's follow-up to the hit raunchy comedy of two years ago, Ted. Thanks to some beautiful footage of Monument Valley (made famous by director John Ford in his classic Westerns) and spry music from Joel McNeely, the movie has a surprisingly good look and pleasantly nostalgic feel. But it's also lacking the most crucial necessity for a comedy: laughs. Those come late, but not nearly in enough abundance, and the humor is mostly gross rather than outrageously funny.

In other words, Mel Brooks has nothing to worry about: Blazing Saddles remains the gold standard for awkwardly funny Western parodies.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Albert (MacFarlane), a sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona who, as the film opens, is trying to talk his way out of a duel. His girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) is unimpressed by Albert's fast-talking evasion and soon leaves him to take up with the moustache-clad Foy (Neil Patrick Harris, The Smurfs).

Albert's heartbreak is lessened by a new arrival in town, the beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron, Young Adult), who teaches him how to shoot a pistol so he'll be better prepared for another duel and can win back Louise. There's just one problem: Anna is married, and her husband (Liam Neeson, Non-Stop) is gunning for Albert.

The story in A Million Ways to Die in the West is merely a framework for MacFarlane to hang several gags. The problem is that the gags simply aren't very funny, especially during the crucial first third of the movie, when West gives us a heavy dose of Albert (a little of MacFarlane's on-screen persona goes a long way) while generating barely a chuckle. When the laughs do finally come and the movie clicks, it's largely due to Theron, who brings charisma and goodwill to an otherwise charmless film.

The list of gross gags in A Million Ways to Die in the West is too long to itemize, but "highlights" include prostitution-related humor (including the claims of the prostitute and her suitor to be Christians), uncontrollable defecation and drug hallucinations. Albert's difficult relationship with his father produces a few laughs, but even that dynamic quickly fizzles before MacFarlane continues to beat it to death.

Don't be fooled into thinking A Million Ways to Die in the West is a new comedy classic. It's merely another outrageous comedy with a low laugh count and high potential to disappoint. The Western deserves better, even when being lampooned, and so do audiences.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; numerous uses of foul language; crude jokes and scatological references; multiple uses of the F-word; crude references to male and female anatomy; a carnival game is based on racial stereotypes; "kick it in the b-lls"
  • Drinking/Smoking: Several scenes of drinking and smoking; ingestion of a "pot cookie," followed by hallucinations
  • Sex/Nudity: A man's bare backside; a main character is a prostitute who's spoken to coarsely; sounds of sex in another room; her beau wants to have his first sexual experience with her, but both are waiting because they claim to be Christians; discussion of oral sex; a visual gag involves semen; references to oral and anal sex; a man briefly refers to  a sexual encounter he had as a child with his uncle; a couple lays in bed, and the man appears to masturbate; drugs taken during a Native American ceremony
  • Violence/Crime: A block of ice splits a man's head; a saloon shooting and a brawl; a woman is said to have had her throat slit by a tumbleweed; a man is run down by a bull
  • Religion/Morals/MarriageParkinson’s disease is said to be "another way God shows us He loves us"; a woman engaging in premarital sex says, "We could all die tomorrow. I think God will forgive us"; an "Islamic death chant"

Publication date: May 30, 2014