A Million Ways to Die in the West
Film Review by Kam Williams
MacFarlane Spoofs Westerns in Relentlessly-Crude, Mean-Spirited Comedy
It seems like Seth MacFarlane must have been inspired by Blazing Saddles (1974) to make a more outrageous spoof of the Western genre. For instance, where the Mel Brooks classic featured cowboys farting after eating beans around a campfire, this time, ingesting the legume leads to cowboy hats filled with diarrhea. He even pays homage to Blazing Saddles with the help of Jamie Foxx in a cameo, though you have to sit through all the closing credit to hear him utter a famous line from the film.
MacFarlane wrote, directed and stars in A Million Ways to Die in the West, though he’s often dwarfed by the talented actors he surrounded himself with. The cast includes Oscar-winners Foxx (for Ray) and Charlize Theron (for Monster), and nominee Liam Neeson (for Schindler’s List), along with Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi, Bill Mahre, Christopher Lloyd, Gilbert Gottfried, Ewan McGregorand Ryan Reynolds.
The movie merely has the semblance of a storyline, since that is ostensibly of far less import than the punch lines peppering the production. In that regard, the picture resembles Family Guy, MacFarlane’s animated TV sitcom which eschews depth in favor of a string of raunchy one-liners and mean-spirited sight gags.
His diehard fans will undoubtedly be ready for that politically-incorrect brand of humor. However, uninitiated audience members are apt to be as offended by the use of the slur “yellow” (to mean cowardly) in reference to Asians as they are shocked by the sight of carnival patrons taking shots at black figurines rotating around a “Runaway Slave” arcade game.
Then there’s the matter of crude sexuality and gratuitous nudity. Ever think you’d see Liam Neeson lying naked with a daisy stuck in his anal cleft? How about a fountain of urine being created by a circle of peeing sheep, penises prominently unsheathed? Neither did I.
As for the rudimentary plot, the tale unfolds in Arizona in 1882 in a desert town whose main street is dotted with such stereotypical storefronts as the saloon, jail, livery, hotel and whorehouse. At the point of departure, we find nerdy Albert (MacFarlane) being dumped by girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) in favor of Foy (Harris), a sniveling lout with a Snidely Whiplash mustache.
The jilted shepherd cries on the shoulder of a mysterious newcomer (Theron) to the frontier only to learn that she’s married to Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson), a jealous outlaw with a reputation which precedes him. The tension mounts when already smitten Albert is challenged to a duel and must summon up some courage if he’s to ride off into the sunset victoriously with the girl.
Will he rise to the occasion? I doubt the pat resolution matters as much to creator MacFarlane as incessantly appealing to the lowest common denominator. The Old West re-imagined as fodder for the coarsest of gross-out fare!
Fair (1 star)
Rated R for violence, drug use, crude humor, graphic sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity
In English and Apache with subtitles
Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures