Seth McFarlane is the latest director to try his hands at this tricky comedy – western mash up with his feature, A Million Ways to Die in the West but relative to the expectations and coming of last summer’s Ted, it was a mini calamity. “A million jokes to die in the west” some have called it and that’s quite accurate. McFarlane appears to have been given the freedom of the Atlantic to basically do what he wants and some of his tendencies that made his TV shows a success don’t make for good watching on the big screen.
MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep herder living Arizona which we are continually reminded is a daily death trap. There is Cholera, wolves, bandits, snakes, exploding flash bulbs; like he says “a million ways to die in the west” and that is the first gag to die in the west. Albert is in a doomed relationship with girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who leaves him for the moustache aficionado, Foy played by Neil Patrick Harris then like the schmuck he is, he tries to win her back. NPH, to be honest, is very good here rolling through his lines with that Barney Stinson charm. NPH has never been a leading man but has always put in a good shift in a backup role and here he owns every scene. This brings me to the first and maybe biggest problem with the film, Macfarlane casting himself in the leading role. After watching this, it’s clear (if it wasn’t before) Macfarlane is no leading man.
Alert here is essentially the nerd of the old west and is years ahead of his time. He spends the first thirty minutes bitching about the death trap he calls home and in a very colourless way I might add. He is very unengaging and his performance early on mirrors a stand-up routine. We never truly buy into him as the underdog we hope to see win and truth be told, he doesn’t appear to be making much of an effort to sell it. His infantile style may draw laughs as cuddly teddy bear or a talking dog but actually seeing his person throw out lines as if from cue cards did not work for me. He may prove us wrong in the future but for now he should stick to his writing and maybe minor supporting roles.
Things move on when Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town. Theron I liked, I tasted her comic flair on SNL earlier this year and whilst she is not outright funny, she does possess an attractive charm that elevates Macfarlane and the film just a little. Like a true Hollywood story, Albert gets dumped and finds the stunning Anna fall into his lap. Anna spends most of their time together building his hapless persona.
Like most Hollywood stories there’s something in the closet and here it’s in the person of Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), Anna’s supposedly badass husband. The film does nothing build up his aura of notoriety, no wanted posters lying around or not even any egregiously crazy tales about his past exploits. He is just a gunslinger in sinister black riding in to town. We all know why Neeson is here so I won’t even bother.
You expect your western to come with some notable film making attributes; some great shots here and there a decent score in the back but we see nothing like that from our director not that I was surprised. Macfarlane just doesn’t have that filmmaking verve but the least I was hoping for was some good humour but he fails on that front too. He settles for the gross and offensive humour we’ve seen on those parody specials on Family Guy.
His jokes are set up poorly leaving us unable to really appreciate the whole picture. We see them coming from a mile away and when they do arrive, it’s in your face for way long than it has to. Take for example the quip with Edward (Giovanni Ribisi). He doesn’t get “some” from his girlfriend because they are saving themselves for marriage but the thing is she’s a prostitute and goes through ten men on a bad day; funny in itself but he beats that joke over and over again. The cameos give the humour a little mouth to mouth but you know your film is screwed when the echoing sentiment deems the cameo appearances the only thing to come with credit from your film. The only time I truly laughed was at the admittedly incredibly racist but still funny runaway slave gag.
The film ticks the box for being overly long but that goes without saying for terrible comedies. I feel like it could have been considerably better if Macfarlane had not been given carte blanche over this production. A proper leading man would have helped too but the bottom line is it’s not as funny as it thinks it is. I just hope Seth is not the new Adam Sandler or Michael Bay, doing his upmost to indulge himself in narcissist and misguided sensibilities. My fingers are crossed.