#REVIEW: “A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
It sounded bizarre and insane on paper, but Ted turned out to be one of the funniest comedies in years. And like many others, I find it to be infinitely re-watchable (lengthy Third Act notwithstanding). So when they announced that Seth MacFarlane’s follow-up would be called A Million Ways to Die in the West, I was a bit skeptical. Jumping from a contemporary comedy about a foul-mouthed stuffed bear to a period western-comedy seemed like a bit of a stretch.
Sheep Farmer Albert (MacFarlane) is in a bit of a rut. His Girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him after he talks his way out of a duel, he is in constant fear of dying from any number of horrific means, and he is not all that great at his job. Enter mysterious Stranger Anna (Charlize Theron), who latches onto Albert rather quickly. But unfortunately for Albert, Anna is married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) – the most notorious Outlaw in the West.
From the very first to the last frame, MacFarlane’s second feature Film strives to evoke the look and feel of the old-school Westerns that once dominated the Film and Television world. The Music is a brilliantly composed ode to that era of Filmmaking, as are the sweeping vistas (whether real or computer generated), the costumes and the set design. The dialogue and major references may be entirely contemporary, but great pains have been taken to ensure the film looks every bit authentic to the time period as it possibly can. Even the violence – which becomes rather extreme in some instances – seems to have been informed by these Films and Shows.
Rather sadly, the script does not match that level of near greatness. MacFarlane wisely cribs but does not attempt to recreate Mel Brooks’ legendary Blazing Saddles, but he never seems able to commit to any one part of his story. Some portions feel like extended sketches and monologues better suited for Family Guy than a Feature, while others feel like they belong to an entirely different Movie altogether. The Film runs at just under two hours, but it feels even longer due to some of the scenes MacFarlane stuffs into the mix. And while it can become downright hysterical at times, an alarming number of jokes fail more than they succeed. It feels like a mash-up of ideas that do not quite form a cohesive whole. The Supporting Cast suffers as a result with the likes of Subplots for Giovanni Ribisi and a ridiculously uncomfortable Sarah Silverman going unresolved, and Neeson’s villainous Clinch going underused.
While we never saw him physically on-screen in Ted, MacFarlane is front and centre here. He has a charismatic presence about himself that never wavers; it just grows stronger as the film goes on. He does not command the screen like a Leading Man should, but he does a more than admirable job for his first try. And the fact that he does start talking in different voices is more than enough of a reason to commend his work here. But the real revelation is Theron, who seems to be having a total blast with her role. She has the same quiet intensity about herself that she usually brings to her roles, but she never lets it get in the way of her having fun and hamming it up. This is a strong Female Character in a ridiculous Film, but she sells it so well that you will not even notice.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is an admirable second Feature, but it is deeply flawed. It looks and sounds great, but the Story and Jokes are a mess. Family Guy Fans will revel in how ridiculous the Film quickly becomes, but casual comedy fans looking for the next Ted may go home disappointed. But for those willing to venture into MacFarlane’s deranged vision of a western, know that you will be rewarded with some of the most preposterous Cameos ever. And yes, they are even better than Flash Gordon.
Universal Pictures Canada release A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST on Friday, May 30, 2014.