06th Jun2014

‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Seth Macfarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman | Written and Directed by Seth Macfarlane

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Seth Macfarlane’s domination of a large part of US pop-culture has run rampant over the last few years arguably culminating with the insanely successful Ted of a couple of years ago, combining his flair for absurd animated comedy with a hot cast of live-action actors which scored hugely at the box office worldwide. Ted backers Universal have rewarded Macfarlane with their backing of his interpretation of that rarest of combinations, a comedy western with A Million Ways To Die In The West, and while it is not a perfect film, if you can buy in to its notions, there’s a fair bit of fun to be had.

What is clear whether you like the film or not is that it is indulgent. Even the opening credits with its soring music and beautiful cinematogtaphy has a certain sense of the smug with a solid 5 minutes or so spent on the title cards with a good many proclaiming the jobs Macfarlane did on the film. For those looking for ammo against the film, there’s easily enough in this opening itself. Combine that with Macfarlane’s essentially anarchonistic portrayal of a man who seems like he doesn’t belong in the time but was born there anyway, and you have quite a bit you just need to go with.

This certainly extends to the humour also. If you’ve seen Macfarlane’s previous work, there’s nothing much in here which would change your opinion of him based on this film. There’s a fair bit of toilet humour, a lot of comedy violence, some clever verbal exchanges and random cameos which all feel a part of his work. None of it is all that mean-spirited however and while there’s grossness, it’s not nearly as full-on as many other comedies can get these days. Not all of it hits, but objectively speaking there’s enough which does to make things worthwhile, despite a near 2-hour runtime which does test the patience towards the end.

Seth Macfarlane, who has hidden behind cartoons and CG in his own work so far, is an endearing presence who is easy to get on side with. He’s funny, has a fair bit of charm but also defiantly isn’t your everyday hero. While his arc goes through the usual notions, they are undercut by moments where we are reminded that he is not a gunslinger and never will be, he’s just a nice guy.

Charlize Theron exhibits solid chemistry with Macfarlane and their respect for each other refreshingly never turns into sex jokes or any real objectification of her, instead the two fall for each other just because they get along. Liam Neeson’s character never breaks out of his villain role but he does what is required, and instead most of the antagonistic heavy lifting is done by Neil Patrick Harris, essentially playing an “olde timey” version of Barney from How I Met Your Mother, complete with a verbal nod to that show, and he does well enough although a musical number involving his character feels extraneous. Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman are all fine in smaller roles, though there’s a sense that they all could have been trimmed back even further.

A Million Ways To Die In The West will certainly not be the comedy of the year, frankly there are too many problems with it. Despite this, many of the laughs work, Macfarlane and Theron are good together and there’s a sense of having fun which manages to pull you through.

***½  3.5/5

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