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Friday, June 6, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West 2014 * * Stars

A Million Ways to Die in the WestDirector: Seth MacFarlane
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson

If you enjoy the sight of Liam Neeson's arse having a dandelion stuck in it, Neil Patrick Harris defecating into a couple of cowboy hats (and having the camera pan down to show a ton of poop), and the constant sight of horse dung, then by golly this is the movie for you. Yes, Seth MacFarlane is at it again. He did a fine job hosting the Oscars and managed to make the aggressively funny Ted. Here he strikes out with 2014's wild wild west spoof, A Million Ways to Die in the West. You see his 2012 release Ted pushed the envelope with a forced crassness that truly worked. With his latest release however, he doesn't get a whole lot of laughs. "West" is vulgar for the sake of being vulgar, crude for the sake of being crude, and gross for the sake of being gross. There is virtually no humor in the screenplay. The result: the jokes fall flat as pancakes and you as the audience member, start to look at your watch and nod your head in disbelief. MacFarlane, acting as star, director, and producer here, gets on a mini ego trip trying to do what the Zucker brothers did with Airplane (spoofing air travel and airports) and the Wayans brothers did with Scary Movie (spoofing the horror genre and every other genre for that matter). He fails most contingently with a fine cast (Oscar nominees/winners Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson who deserve better) and tired jokes that actually render things a little boring ("West" is probably 20 minutes too long).

Containing an obligatory musical score lifted from every single Western (known to man) and featuring a lingo of dialogue by which no human being would ever speak in the late 1800's, A Million Ways to Die in the West follows a whiny, down his luck sheep farmer named Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane). As the proceedings begin, he loses his girlfriend to a wealthy mustache shop owner named Foy (played by Neil Patrick Harris who provides the film's only real chuckles). Stark complains that the town he lives in is plagued by disease, murder, and death in general. When he befriends a new town resident named Anna (the stunning Charlize Theron), he is smitten with her. They become close, form a relationship, and ultimately fall prey to Theron's character's evil husband (Clinch Leatherwood played by Liam Neeson). This plot thread just mentioned, somewhat deviates from the general "so stupid it's funny" element thereby making "West" a sort of black comedy that doesn't quite gel. As things get closer to wrapping up, Theron's Anna teaches Stark to become a great shot so that he can eventually confront and kill Leatherwood. Everyone can live happily ever after and Stark can avoid leaving his small Arizona town in order to move to San Francisco.

Now the acting is fairly decent but certain characters seem to belong in a different flick altogether. Liam Neeson's Clinch Leatherwood is a prime example. He plays effectively, the outlaw or villain if you will. But there is nothing goofy or humorous about his performance. Everyone around him seems to carry a different tone. They are all playing for laughs while Neeson is gruff and out of place. As for MacFarlane, he's not a bad actor but doesn't quite have the chops to really carry a whole film. His Stark is ill-defined. It's as if he came from a different century or era. Heck, he talks about his gun slinging town as if he entered from the future and was stuck in some unforgiving time warp. All in all, he should probably just stick to doing roles like the voice of the despicable teddy bear from Ted. He brings the funny so much more when reading from a microphone in a sound proof booth.

Ultimately, this is a redundantly flat and uneven comedy. I didn't get the humor in the 1974 classic Blazing Saddles (of which this film was clearly inspired by) and I sure didn't get the humor in what's featured here. Bottom line: A Million Ways to Die in the West possesses about "a million ways" not to make you laugh. Just call it one of 2014's weakest entries so far.

Of note: (spoiler alerts) if you choose to purchase a ticket to this unfunny monstrosity, watch for the ending in which MacFarlane's character wins some reward money (in a gun-fueled shootout) and uses said money to buy thousands of sheep for his homestead (he's a lousy sheep herder so this makes no sense whatsoever). Then there are a couple of meaningless cameos in the form of Jamie Foxx (showing up obviously as a nod to his role in Django Unchained) and Christopher Lloyd (looking like he's 1000 years old) reprising his role as Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Their scenes are just plain arbitrary and too short to register.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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