One of the interesting things about comedy directors is that of the follow up film. When you’ve had the sort of exceptional success like Seth MacFarlane has, a sophomore slump feels like it shouldn’t even apply. He’s gone from being an oddity with an animated show as a prime time sit-com to a man who once dominated Sunday evenings on Fox. MacFarlane has also failed, as well, with a number of live action shows finding quick deaths alongside The Cleveland Show after four fairly solid years. So a proper cinematic follow up to 2012’s Ted would seem to be child’s play for him. This is a guy who has managed to have two of the funniest shows on television, animated and in prime time, and has failed enough in other endeavors to make you think he would avoid the pratfalls of other directors.
MacFarlane has a lot of talent, that’s for sure, but A Million Ways to Die in the West is a failure of spectacular portions. It’s a real shame, too, because he inherently gets what he’s trying to do in spoofing a western. He just doesn’t do it very well.
Albert (MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer in the 1880s who’s a coward. Dumped by Louise (Amanda Seyfried) after talking his way out of a gun fight, Albert wants to leave his hometown of Old Stump for San Francisco. But then Anna (Charlize Theron) walks into town, the wife of notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), and he stays almost in part to his newfound friendship. Conspiring with her to win Louise back from her new boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris), and his glorious mustache, Albert winds up with two problems. He wants to win back Louise … but he also has to deal with Clinch, who wants to kill him in a gunfight.
And on the surface this looks like it’d be prime territory for MacFarlane. Comedic westerns are very hard to pull off, the only notable one to stand the annals of time being Blazing Saddles, and you can see where MacFarlane is coming from with this film. He wants to make a film like that as opposed to something forgettable like The Villain. He’s done something far more different than either of those two: made a film that’s just plain awful that shouldn’t be seen in the first place.
MacFarlane either did phenomenal research or is a massive fan of older westerns, that’s for sure. This is a film that pays homage to that period of film by emulating it to a brilliant degree. The film’s opening cinematography of the American Southwest, its big booming score and the way MacFarlane sets up scenes and moments comes from a place a love of the genre. This isn’t a half cocked spoof that just lazily picks on one film of note that would be called Western Comedy. This film hits every note a 1960s western would hit from a pure style perspective. MacFarlane has crafted a film that looks almost period appropriate.
The problem is that it’s just not that funny.
There are plenty of gags that could work, like Sarah Silverman playing a hooker who doesn’t believe in premarital sex with her fiancée (Giovanni Ribisi), that could hit but don’t because they’re not delivered with any sort of subtlety or nuance. McFarlane has gone back to the same well of jokes that made Ted work, blue humor that pushes the envelope, except this time around he doesn’t have that setup to make them work. Ted worked because the general conceit was brilliant and it was developed as a great story first, good gags second. West fails because neither of those facets is there this time around.
Even what should be the film’s crowning moment, a song and dance number about mustaches, isn’t all that funny or clever. This is a film that fancies itself much funnier than it should be; it’s kind of sad because there’s enough talent there that this should be a significantly funnier film than it turns out to be. A Million Ways to Die in the West has about a million gags in it … but none of them are all that funny.
Director: Seth McFarlane Writer: Seth MacFarlene, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild Notable Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.