After sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) talks his way out of a gun fight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for obnoxious Moustachery owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Albert tells best buddy Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) he's thinking of moving to San Francisco because there are "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Cowriter (with "Ted's" Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild)/director Seth MacFarlane proved himself capable of making a raunchy feature comedy with 2012's "Ted." What happened? While his scenes with costar Charlize Theron as Anna, the mysterious sharpshooter who rides into town, are sweetly silly, the films over reliance on scatological humor is off putting while sheep puns and a saloon prostitute's lewd acts while otherwise saving herself for marriage (Sarah Silverman playing to her persona) grow repetitive. The film does pick up in its last forty odd minutes (of a 117 minute running time) thanks to a "Rango" referencing Native American Indian drug-induced reverie, but even then it nosedives with a drawn out cliched gross out scene. The film's most inventive running gag involves what must be a MacFarlane obsession with the classic stiff subjects of Old West photographs.
Albert would rather have a civil discussion than resort to violence, an approach that doesn't sit well in trigger-happy Old Stump, Arizona. The financially well off and mustachioed Foy takes every opportunity to put down Stark's inept sheep farming. But Anna takes a liking to the amusing Albert, agreeing to teach him how to shoot and pose as his girlfriend while neglecting to tell him she's the wife of notorious murderous bandit Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). By the time Stark realizes he's fallen for her, Clinch has gotten wise.
"A Million Ways" portrays the Old West in familiar period style with a modern sensibility that is usually tonally consistent, but sometimes sticks out like a prickly cactus (pot cookies?!). MacFarlane has a bevy of cameoing stars, their very presence aimed to elicit laughs, but again, what's a "Back to the Future" nod with Christopher Lloyd got to do with anything? (Keep your eyes peeled for Ewan McGregor, Ryan Reynolds, John Michael Higgins and Jamie Foxx. Gilbert Gottfried and Bill Maher are a faux Abraham Lincoln and square dance host.)
MacFarlane's merely OK in the lead, but he's blessed with costar Theron, a surprise as she's both tough and tender while having the distinction of being the only actress to ever plant a daisy in Neeson's exposed posterior. Neil Patrick Harris gets to sing and dance, but this is his limpest performance despite his well groomed facial hair - there's no real joy apparent in it. Wes Studi ("Dances With Wolves") makes a welcome late appearance and although she has few lines and scant screen time, Alex Borstein (the voice of 'Family Guy's' Lois) pops as saloon madam Millie.
The film has the look and feel of old school, widescreen Westerns right down to it's garish shadowed title credits and Joel McNeely's jaunty, traditional score. The film's opening flyover shots of Monument Valley are truly grand. Original songs, however, like the square dance set piece "If You've Only Got a Moustache," are neither organic nor memorable. MacFarlane's direction is slack.
"Blazing Saddles" may be most well known for creating the cinematic fart joke, but that doesn't mean taking it to a power of ten is funnier.
Robin did not see this film.
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