Butler County Times Gazette
  • Movie review: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ has its ups and downs

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  • I really enjoyed this movie. I absolutely hated this movie. OK, I guess my feelings are actually somewhere in the middle. Writer-director-producer-star Seth MacFarlane’s attempt at joining the ranks of comedy Westerns falls quite short of the marks made by the likes of “Blazing Saddles,” “Cat Ballou,” “Shanghai Noon” and “The Lone Ranger.” (Yes, folks, “The Lone Ranger” was a comedy! The studio just forgot to market it that way.)
    Why did I enjoy MacFarlane’s film? Well, it’s funny, sometimes dipping into the arena of slapstick sight gags; more often going for long, babbling bursts of words; sometimes flipping between gross-out humor and absurd pools-of-blood-style violence. The comedy stays mostly within the confines of the rude and crude kind of thing that MacFarlane presented in “Ted.” Yes, the movie made me laugh.
    MacFarlane stars as Albert, a disorganized sheepherder in 1882 Arizona (the film goes out of its way to let us know we’re in Arizona even though it freely uses Utah’s Monument Valley as its physical setting). He hates the West and everything about it, but has somehow managed to carve out a life made reasonably happy due to his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried, who, in my book, exists as a red flag of annoyance any time she appears in a movie).
    The story opens with Albert whiningly and babblingly trying to talk his way out of a gunfight with an angry cattleman who’s accused him of letting his sheep graze in cattle country. This results in Louise dumping him because A) he’s a coward, B) she needs to find herself, C) she’s taken up with the smarmy Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), successful owner of the town’s moustacherie (and wearer of an outstandingly twirly moustache).
    But before the story gets too involved with the shattered Albert’s sudden loneliness, the bad guy arrives. That would be Clinch (Liam Neeson, Irish brogue in full flower, great in the part), known by all as “the most vicious gunfighter in the territory.” In tow are his motley gang and his gorgeous wife, Anna (Charlize Theron).
    There are two things you need to know in advance about this film. First, the constantly changing storyline doesn’t follow any rules of order; things seem to happen because they just happen, not because they make any sense. Second, if you haven’t watched any preview trailers for the film, do not start now. If you have seen any of them, you’ve also already seen most of the good gags.
    Why did I not enjoy MacFarlane’s film? Because it’s terribly uneven, and is played too broadly. Sometimes there’s too much comedy, other times there’s too much drama. Most of the comedy is too raucous and in the worst of taste, such as in a couple of unnecessarily scenes that give new meaning to the term “toilet humor.” It’s in these cases that MacFarlane is acting (and writing and directing) as if he’s a little kid getting a kick out of being naughty. When it goes into dramatic areas, some of it is just too brutal. Yeah, we get it that Clinch is a bad guy, but we don’t really need him to make us flinch by his actions.
    Page 2 of 2 - So I don’t know exactly where I stand on this odd, funny, troubling movie. The supporting characters are fun, including Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), the incredibly understanding celibate boyfriend of the very popular town hooker (Sarah Silverman). The cameos are plentiful (the only one I’ll give away here is Gilbert Gottfried’s bizarre take on Abe Lincoln). MacFarlane and his special effects crew have devised one of cinema’s best psychedelic drug scenes. Good use is made of the naturally panoramic West. And in the scenes shared by MacFarlane and Theron, she is laughing so hard and so freely, there’s no doubt that he’s ad-libbing or at least hitting her with dialogue she didn’t know was coming.
    But there’s one other problem. No comedy needs to go more than 90 minutes. This one runs for two hours, and burns out very early on.
    Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
    A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
    Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild; directed by Seth MacFarlane
    With Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman and lots of cameos
    Rated R

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