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A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (review)

million_ways_to_die_in_the_west_ver8A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson
 
Anna: People die at the fair.

Albert: People die at the fair.

There’s a scene in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, the latest from Family Guy and TED creator, Seth MacFarlane, that truly captures what its like to watch this western farce. MacFarlane shoots bullet after bullet at bottles lined up on a fence from a safe distance. He cannot hit anything and just keeps shooting and missing, shooting and missing. He even gets right up close to the bottles and still can’t hit anything. In living up to its name, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST provides us the opportunity to watch MacFarlane himself die over and over again as joke after joke after joke falls flatter than the last. He keeps firing them off and they keep missing the mark. With so much time spent not laughing, the audience is left to do what so many in the West were left to do on quiet nights, to stare at the stars and contemplate why nothing is working out the way that it should.

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Conceptually, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is an easy sell. MacFarlane’s crass, irreverent humour applied to both a time in history and a film genre that are ripe with opportunity for satirizing sounds hysterical in theory. At times, it is actually mildly amusing but it is never so funny that one is actually able to look past how insipid and underdeveloped it is. MacFarlane, who makes a daring and reasonably successful transition from voice actor to movie star, plays Albert, a hapless, cowardly sheep farmer who has lost the love of his life (Amanda Seyfried) and now sees even less reason to live. That is, until Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town and reminds him that he is still loveable. Of course, she neglects to mention that she’s married to the most notorious gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson). Minor detail.

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To pass the time in this tumbleweed-dry premise, MacFarlane applies his contemporary brand of biting humour to the West’s numerous cliches, focusing mostly on how easy it is to die unexpectedly and in any manner. In fact, it is a running gag throughout the film but this eventually exposes how very little A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is actually about. I do consider MacFarlane to be a smart comedian so by the time the film devolves into excruciating excrement humour (shame on you, Neil Patrick Harris, for allowing yourself to be debased in this fashion on screen), it just felt like MacFarlane had run out of steam and original ideas, that he had stretched the film’s potential too far and that he knew it wasn’t totally working too. Maybe if the film had a talking bear …

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