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- by Teddy Durgin -

A Million Ways to Die is far from MacFarlane's best Western

OK, first of all, abandon any and all comparisons to "Blazing Saddles" ye who enter this review of "A Million Ways to Die in the West." We're not even gonna go there. Even if Seth MacFarlane's movie had been a good movie (it's not), he was never gonna touch that Mel Brooks' Western comedy classic, and I didn't expect him to. However, I fully expected him to make a film that was funnier than "Rustler's Rhapsody"... than "The Frisco Kid"... than... than... "Unforgiven!" Seriously, that Clint Eastwood meditation on death and killing was a more consistently funny comedy than this misfire... and they whipped Morgan Freeman in that one and cut up a hooker! There are about a hundred problems with "A Million Ways to Die in the West." But let's just discuss a few of them. First up, though, let me acknowledge that there ARE some funny bits in it. A running gag about how no one smiles in Old West photos is spot-on. Neil Patrick Harris as a moustache-proud jerk who steals the MacFarlane character's girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) proves once again that he can take the weakest material and mine some comedy gold out of it. And several of the cameos are terrific, including one of the most unlikely actors to EVER play Abraham Lincoln and the very last cameo in the film that would have provided a great exclamation point had the preceding two hours before it been inspired. But the really good jokes are few and far between. This is as clunky and uneven a comedy as I've seen in a long time. The biggest problem? It's too long! This is what happens when a studio yields too much creative control to one person. MacFarlane is the director, star, co-producer and co-screenwriter here, and he doesn't bring his A-game to any of those four roles. As a director, he can't decide if he wants to make a shrewd parody, a gross-out comedy or a straight Western action film. He mixes in moments of clever commentary with disgusting and largely unfunny gross-out gags with sequences of some pretty hard-R violence. At all times, he wants you to think, feel, wince, recoil and thrill to his film. That doesn't make for a pleasurable viewing experience! Meanwhile, as the star of the film, he basically tries to play Seth MacFarlane trapped in the Old West. But here's the problem - MacFarlane doesn't have a strong enough persona to make that work. Mel Brooks was a Borscht Belt funnyman who could plop himself down into multiple time periods in multiple guises, and it always worked because... he was Mel Brooks! The same thing could be said of Woody Allen and the roles he wrote for himself in the films he directed in his '70s and '80s heyday. But MacFarlane doesn't even have faith in the public persona he has created as a smug, faithless button pusher to play THAT guy in his movie. Instead, his Albert Stark is a meek, whiny pantywaist who just doesn't fit in. He has done his own film a disservice by casting himself in the lead. But star he does as a sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona who is challenged to a gunfight by Harris' Foy and has to get shooting lessons from the new farmer in town, Charlize Theron's Annie Oakley-esque spitfire Anna. He eventually falls for her only to find out she's the wife of the most fearsome bandit in the West, Clinch (Liam Neeson), who eventually shows up in town. "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a movie that just keeps getting in its own way. Numerous bits are funny once, and are then run into the ground... especially over the dag-gum 120-minute running time. This is a big step backwards for MacFarlane after the success of "Ted." For him... lucky there's a "Family Guy." "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, some violence and drug material.

 

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