I think we were all a little worried about Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane venturing into live-action filmmaking. After proving he could withstand two cancellations on the Fox network, the surprising part of his venture was that it would be distributed by Universal Pictures. 2012’s Ted proved to be a smashing success with his trademark humor translating brilliantly and now with his second feature, A Million Ways to Die in the West, he proves that he can not only still deliver the brand of laughs we’ve come to expect, but can also make a full-blooded, rootin’ tootin’ Western to boot. It may not be as brazenly funny as Ted, but this is definitely the second funniest film of the year, beaten so far only by the no-holds-barred Neighbors.
In Old Stump, Arizona in 1882, sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) has just talked his way out of a duel. Due to his cowardice, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him. He’s not only a coward, but also the worst sheep farmer around. Meanwhile, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) has just arrived on the outskirts of town with his gang of outlaws in tow, including his wife Anna (Charlize Theron). Anna is sent into Old Stump to pose as the new girl in town and takes Albert under her wing after he challenges Louise’s new beau Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) to a duel. Anna teaches Albert how to shoot a gun and fall in love, but not before Clinch catches word that someone is making the moves on his wife. Now there’s a million and one ways to die in the West.
A Million Ways to Die in the West may not reach the heights of the classic Blazing Saddles, but MacFarlane isn’t trying to make that kind of comedy. This is the MacFarlane show through and through. With him cast center stage, it takes a strong love for the man’s comedic sensibilities to even find the film funny. It’s a love it or hate it kind of humor and I love it. Stretching his jokes beyond the breaking point, it’s exactly the kind of insanity we’ve come to expect from MacFarlane. There are far more chances to catch your breath this time, thanks to MacFarlane and his Ted co-writers (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) giving the film an actual plot. While the 117-minute runtime may seem excessive, this is a full-blown Western and the genre is no stranger to epic runtimes.
One of the best things going for the film is that MacFarlane makes for a surprisingly handsome leading man. He has great chemistry with Theron. The rest of the cast is having a ball as well, even if Neeson is a tad underused as the main villain. Cameos are par for the course with some being funnier than others—the best one unfortunately being spoiled in the most recent trailer and TV spots—but MacFarlane’s pop culture jabbing also runs rampant, with jokes flying fast and furious covering everything from How I Met Your Mother to bringing back gags from Ted. A Million Ways to Die in the West won’t go down as the funniest movie of the year, but it is definitely one of the funniest movies of the year. MacFarlane makes sure that while everything in the West may be trying to kill you, that there are a million ways to laugh in a movie.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures