It seemed inevitable that Seth MacFarlane was going to star in a movie. After his success with Ted (which he wrote and directed and which made over half a billion worldwide), after hosting both Saturday Night Live and the Oscars, it seemed he wanted to be in front of the camera, no longer just writing and providing voice work for such television shows as Family Guy and American Dad. That shot was A Million Ways to Die in the West, which he also wrote, produced and directed, and it did not have the sort of success that would suggest he’ll get to star in another. The film barely made $40 million domestically, and was roundly panned. The film has its moments, and will probably get a better reputation when it’s viewed with the lowered expectations that come with home viewing, though it’s the definition of indulgent. Co-starring with Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson, this comic western is a mostly one-note premise stretched to feature length. My A Million Ways To Die In The West Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
MacFarlane stars as Albert, a sheep farmer who doesn’t want to get in a gunfight at the beginning of the movie, as he thinks it’s stupid and endemic of the backwards thinking of the old west. This then leads to his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to dump him. He is heartbroken and so he gets drunk with his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward’s girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) – who makes her living as a prostitute – but Louise quickly moves on to Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Meanwhile, the fastest gun in the west Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson) robs a prospector and needs to time for his gang to cool off, which leads him to send his wife Anna (Theron) off to hide in the town where Albert lives.
Albert spends much of his time pointing out what’s terrible about the old west, but when he saves Anna during a bar fight, the two become fast friends and she figures out the best way for him to get Louise back is to make her jealous. But then the two start to develop feelings for each other because of course they do. This leads to Albert challenging Foy to a duel, which means that Albert is going to have to learn how to shoot a gun. But even if he can best Foy, there’s the looming threat of Clinch.
Running 116 minutes in the theatrical cut, and 135 minutes in the unrated cut, West is very much a MacFarlane product, and showcases his tone and sensibility perfectly for better or worse. MacFarlane is very much a batting average comedian, which means he throws a lot of jokes at the screen, and many miss, but considering how roundly the film was panned, I was surprised that I laughed as much as I did. The problem is that MacFarlane throws five jokes at an idea and four of them usually aren’t that funny. Here he plays a gentile version of a Woody Allen character, someone who can’t help but feel anachronistic in his environment, and the concept is strong enough for a sketch (the west would be a terrible place to live), but at feature length the film spends a lot of time repeating that joke or that Sarah Silverman plays a hooker who does the filthiest things but is otherwise a nice person, so it’s funny that her boyfriend doesn’t seem to care that she sleeps with other guys even though they haven’t had sex yet.
Charlize Theron comes off best in the film, perhaps because she has an animated spirit, and it’s nice to see her get to have fun in a movie. Unfortunately her character thinks every word that comes out of MacFarlane’s mouth is hilarious. The two do have an easy chemistry, which makes the film easier to sit through. Otherwise, Neeson doesn’t get to do much but play the big bad, while Ribisi and Silverman strike the right tone for their joke. Ultimately, the film will likely find an audience when it ends up repeating on basic cable, and it will likely find an audience with those who still love Family Guy. MacFarlane was primed to the point that he had to have a public failure, and this film was likely doomed to be a misstep. That said, MacFarlane doesn’t seem like he can make the transition to leading man, though he might make a good supporting player. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Universal presents the film on Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The presentation is good, though the limits of digital photography are sometimes apparent. The disc offers both the theatrical and extended cut (which doesn’t feature a major deleted subplot, it mostly offers more jokes, and material on how young people got married in the west), along with a DVD and digital copy. The film also comes with a commentary by MacFarlane, Theron, and executive producers/co-writers Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin that consists mostly of them goofing on each other. Extras also include an alternate opening (3 min.) and ending (1 min.), which gives Foy and Louise a different fate, while there’s also seven alternate/extended/deleted scenes (11 min.) and a gag reel (6 min.). There are also three featurettes on the making of the movie: “Once Upon a Time, in a Different Place” (10 min.), “A Fistful of Dirt… In Your Mouth” (11 min.), and “The Good, The Bad and the Increasingly Decrasing Population” (7 min.). The first is the standard making of, while the second talks up the film’s location work, while the last one highlights all of the film’s cameos. There are all pretty slight.