“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a long title for a movie that should just be called “Seth MacFarlane Slapstick Romantic Comedy Western.” I guess that’s pretty long too. How about “New Timey Jokes in Old Timey West?” Nope that one stinks too. “Old West Gross Out?” “A Million Jokes Die in the West?” “Sophomore Slump?” Eh. I guess the original title is okay enough.
So in “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” writer/director Seth MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer living just outside of a small town called Old Stump, and the movie starts with him weaseling his way out of a gunfight and then losing his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to the local successful businessman stereotype (Neil Patrick Harris), so he’s down in the dumps when he meets Anna (Charlize Theron), a foxy stranger who befriends Albert and tries to help him turn things around. Little does Albert know that Anna is actually the wife of a feared gunfighter (Liam Neeson) and that is going to be a problem for Albert.
And the crux of the movie is Albert’s lack of self confidence and abundance of self doubt and how he gradually tips those scales in the opposite direction, again thanks to the help of super foxy Anna. So even though this is a comedy with some gross out gags and over the top humor, there is a surprising amount of tears shed in this thing by different characters, as they tried to get actual emotions and character development in there between the jokes about uncontrollable diarrhea and sloppy prostitutes.
Kudos then to them for trying to do this, sort of a more emotionally-invested “Blazing Saddles” type of deal, but truth be told, it all falls pretty flat. The movie kind of lurches back and forth between the absurdist/gross out comedy and the more emotionally “touching” scenes, which leaves the film with little stretches of time in which its all emotional revelations and teary eyes and a severe lack of jokes, all between stretches of rapid fire slapstick humor that ranges from disgusting jokes revolving around bodily fluids and Seth MacFarlane falling down over and over.
At least in those stretches of movie filled with the jokes the humor comes pretty quickly, so when five jokes get thrown out there in a minute, at least one or two of them are going to hit. So it is not like there aren’t any laughs to be had in this movie because surely there are, lord knows they tried to put as much humor in there as possible. But the tonal balance was just all off, especially since not only were they attempting to balance comedy with a little bit of drama, but they wanted to make an homage to the John Ford westerns of back in the day, what with all the wide shots of Monument Valley and sweeping score and such. And in the end it feels like the comedy suffers the most from all the attention being paid to everything else, which isn’t such a good thing.
It also does not help that Universal (or maybe just their marketing department) got nervous with selling this thing and decided to throw out many of the best surprises and sight gags in all of their commercials and trailers, including a pretty sweet cameo which would have made me laugh so hard if I hadn’t seen it five times already in just the marketing. Pretty weak fellas.
So sure there are some guffaws and chuckles, but its also kinda long and somewhat aimless at times, and unfortunately it will not be joining that VERY short list of successful western comedies, but instead will likely be put on the list of valiant but ultimately failed vanity projects.