A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST

million_ways_to_die_in_the_west_ver11The story at the center of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (AMWTDITW, henceforth) is a tried and true theme of dozens of westerns. The meek hero has to screw up his courage to save the town or win the girl. So, in this case it is not necessarily about the uniqueness of the story, but rather the effectiveness of the execution. On that score, AMWTDITW is a winner. If you are looking for subtle humor or sly wit, look elsewhere. Seth MacFarlane’s style is to bludgeon you over the head with a joke (or a block of ice in one scene). Just because the humor is obvious or filthy doesn’t make it less funny. Anyone expecting different has obviously never seen Family Guy or American Dad. The film is two hours long and I think I at least chuckled most of the time, but a lot of the time it was loud belly laughs. MacFarlane knows the meaning of “going for it”. He doesn’t pull any punches or “tone it down” to appeal to a wider audience. Why should he? He knows what his audiences expect and that’s exactly what he delivers. And judging by the loud laughter at the theater where I saw it, his audience agrees. There are several Family Guy style cutaways and a few hysterical cameos. And the way MacFarlane’s character Albert Stark brings modern sensibility to old west issues was sly and made me chuckle every time. Where the film kind of falls flat is in its quieter moments. MacFarlane is a great writer, pretty good director and does great character voices. As an actor, meh. Sorry Seth, you’re just not as good as the other members of your cast. So, those tender scenes between Seth and Charlize Theron don’t always work. But the comedy always works. And isn’t that why we’re going to see this movie anyhow? There may be A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (and the film tries to hit each one of them), but there are nearly as many ways to laugh at it all, and largely this film nails each one. — Alan Yudman

 

Norman Mailer said of J.D. Salinger that he had the “greatest mind ever to stay in prep school”. Seth MacFarlane may be having trouble leaving seventh grade. There are so many gags that work in his western spoof, you have to wonder how someone so sharp can’t understand why just saying “fuck” and “shit” should automatically get a laugh (including the very, very first joke). Now that I come to think of it, there’s an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” where Debra scores Ray for telling poems to the kids that go “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, something something poop and pee.” To which Ray replies, “You gotta give the public what it wants.” Maybe it’s the LCD/bottom line factor. But the language and visual jokes like the hatful of feces (wasn’t the Neil Patrick Harris pantomime enough?) are juvenile. Even the better gags are telegraphed and with the same setup-knockdown rhythm. The performers, however, are better than the material. This is the warmest I’ve seen Charlize Theron, sexy and accessible. And Giovanni Ribisi is such a likable dork it makes you (once again) pray for him to renounce Scientology. If you’re looking for a truly offbeat (and even funnier) satire of the Western, stream Will Ferrell’s CASA DE MI PADRE. (Or even THE THREE AMIGOS). This is just ok. — Jeff Schultz

The first half of Million is as funny as the trailer but midway through West goes south because it makes the ultimate comedy mistake: it becomes serious. We don’t need a half hour of Charlize Theron telling Seth MacFarlane what a great guy he is, or Seth realizing he loves her, blah blah blah. The pacing also slows to a deadly crawl and that’s when I started checking my watch. It finishes up kinda strong but by then the buzz from the beginning has worn off and the hangover has already begun. An okay comedy that could have been great. — Stormy Curry

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