A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST Review

by     Posted 177 days ago

a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-review

After twelve seasons of Family Guy and his first feature film, Ted, Seth MacFarlane‘s sense of humor is well-established at this point.  He’s unlikely to lose the fans he has or garner new ones.  His comedy is slightly off-kilter, gleefully offensive, and highly self-aware.  MacFarlane’s latest film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, barely veers away from this formula, although it keeps the reluctant sentiment and plotting he displayed in Ted.  Once again, it’s clear that his passion lies in cramming in as many jokes as possible, but Million Ways feels overlong despite being consistently funny.  But its biggest problem is trying to build up a central character in a movie where its director/co-writer/star is constantly tearing everyone and everything else down.

Albert (MacFarlane) is a desperately unhappy sheep farmer living in the Arizona frontier town of Old Stump in 1882.  His life gets worse when he’s dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) in favor of the town’s “Moustachery” owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).  Although Albert has the support of his virgin friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward’s prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), his life turns around when he meets Anna (Charlize Theron).  Anna is so immediately enamored of Albert that in almost no time she decides to help him win back Louise.  However, Anna is hiding the secret that the only reason she’s in Old Stump is so she can lay low until her husband, the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), comes to pick her up.

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The movie revels in its anachronisms.  Not only does everyone talk in a modern day cadence, but Albert is basically a 21st century man who’s been transported back in time.  He’s the only person who can observe all the absurdities of the time period, although at other times he’ll lapse into being as confused as his 1882 compatriots like when he’s baffled by the notion of someone smiling in a photograph.  Mostly, MacFarlane is pleased to skewer the Wild West over and over again, and do so through his particular brand of no-holds-barred humor.

Like his previous work, the comedy is all over the place and ranges from the innocuously silly like faking a fistfight in order to survive a brawl to the uncomfortably mean-spirited, and I won’t spoil the surprise on those.  There’s also plenty of scatological comedy, and in a movie that’s comfortable with being juvenile, these were my favorite.  But it’s still shocking to see how far MacFarlane is willing to go, and at one point he blatantly insults one of his actresses.  It’s not a jab at her career or previous films.  He outright makes fun of her looks, and kudos to that actress for going along with it.

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Where Million Ways starts going sour is how MacFarlane is willing to take down almost everyone but himself.  Albert’s greatest flaw is that he’s a bit of a coward, but even then he’s a sensible coward.  He’d rather talk things out rather than have a gunfight.  Beyond that, he’s supposedly sweet, kind, smart and plenty of other admirable qualities even though his personality is fairly bland due to a serviceable-at-best performance from MacFarlane.  He’s a great guy because Anna is constantly telling us he’s a great guy, and the only reason she thinks he’s a great guy is because he’s not a callous murderer like Clinch.  Her only real purpose is to build up Albert’s confidence so he can get back a woman who never thought much of him in the first place.

MacFarlane’s self-indulgence also extends to bloating his trifle of a picture far beyond what its runtime can sustain.  As Family Guy fans know, MacFarlane’s M.O. is to drop in as many jokes as possible regardless of plot.  There are jokes from Family Guy that I love, but I don’t remember the episode from which they came.  Million Ways is pretty much a cartoon, and you can almost see how he would animate it.  Because plot is an afterthought, MacFarlane doesn’t seem focused on tightening it up.  We’ve seen other comedy directors do this, but it weighs heavier on MacFarlane’s movie because the story is a near-constant celebration of his main character.  Why shouldn’t he get a comedy that’s almost two hours long?  Albert’s the best!

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Despite these glaring flaws, I can’t deny that I laughed constantly throughout the movie.  It’s probably as immature and offensive as Blended, but it doesn’t pretend to have a family-friendly sheen.  Million Ways wears its brand of comedy as a badge of honor.  MacFarlane is completely up front with his audience, so even if you aren’t aware of Family Guy or Ted, there’s no bait-and-switch here.  Within the first ten minutes there’s a joke about the setting, a joke about the scenario, and then a dick joke.

It’s somewhat surprising that a filmmaker can be so honest about his comedy, and yet isn’t willing to acknowledge the truth of how his female lead worships the protagonist after knowing him for all of five minutes.  It doesn’t want to admit that just because Albert isn’t a bad guy, that doesn’t make him a particularly good one.  MacFarlane can be incisive with his humor when he wants to be, but his main character should need more than the love of a good woman.  A Million Ways to Die in the West had me laughing, but MacFarlane is never willing to laugh at himself.

Rating: B-

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  • Neo Racer

    So it sucks then?

    • milo

      So you can’t read then?

  • Tommy

    Matt, this is a pretty good review! I can see your main point about Seth… but I didn’t have too much of a problem with it considering the fact that he’s the real “straight man” in this comedic fabrication. A certain distance from all the insulting ridiculousness thus made a certain amount of sense.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      Not really. Michael Bluth is the straight man on Arrested Development, but that show is always making fun of him.

      • Kyle Chandler

        And a lot of the time the humor comes from him thinking he is above the nonsense when he really isn’t.

  • Pk

    Speaking of blended where is the review of that one?

    • http://www.JustPressPlay.net Lex Walker

      What’s the point of reviewing 99% of Adam Sandler comedies anymore? He’s not even trying anymore, so why should critics bother. Sandler is basically just a guy who’s trolling critics and audiences with shitty comedies.

      • Marissa Evans

        Seconded. It’s not even worth it. At this point it’s like reviewing those parody movies like ‘Epic Movie’ and ‘Vampires Suck’.

  • LL

    So it’s funny, but you walk away hating Seth a little more than you did going in? Sounds like every project he does.

  • Doug_101

    I felt that a lot of the best bits were ruined in the trailers and commercials. Really wasn’t a fan of MacFarlane’s painfully self-aware character. Just didn’t find it that funny, though it had a couple of laughs. Was really hoping for better.

  • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

    I’ll say right now that a lot of people are disliking this movie, so keep that in mind. I’m honestly a little surprised it’s getting so much vitriol, but oh well.

    • aceshigh

      I bet a lot of it is backlash over MacFarlane’s perceived overexposure.

      After hosting the Oscars, and now casting himself as the live-action lead in his own film, I bet a lot of people are unhealthily invested in seeing him taken down a few pegs.

      • MJ

        …or it’s a legitimate critique that he belongs on the creative side instead of on the performing side.

        Name one live acting role or live performance role that he has been great in???

        “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
        - Dirty Harry

      • aceshigh

        First of all, he’s NEVER acted live before in any extensive role.

        Sure, it may be legitimate, but the vibe I’m getting from some of the reviews is that people are just looking for an excuse to take shots at MacFarlane, deserved or not. It IS possible to discern when people are piling on.

      • MJ

        Hmm, I seem to recall him being in several live action productions including Movie 43 as well as some small parts in various TV series?

        Plus, we have the lackluster Academy Awards performance.

      • aceshigh

        What I mean is he’s never been in the starring role of a major film before.

        I’m not being a fan boy…he is talented, but he’s definitely pushing his luck on the overexposure front.

      • MJ

        I guess the question would be is it really overexposure, or is it more that he may just pain suck at acting and live performing?

        I remember about 20 years ago, Billy Crystal nailed the Academy Awards, and then nailed a comedic role in City Slickers, and no one was saying he was overexposed.

        I think you are overexposed if the continued exposure itself doesn’t consist of memorable performances, right?

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  • Bob

    I’m confused, you basically ripped the movie to shreds then gave it a B-.

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      I don’t think “to shreds” is a fair assessment. Here’s the problem:

      I laughed a lot, but I can’t give you a lot of examples, or else I ruin the jokes. This is why it’s tough to review comedies.

  • alk

    Well I was all with your review from start to finish, ready to see you give it the deserving doodoo rating it deserves. And you give it a B- that’s not at all matching with the review and points that you made. A C or even a C- can still make us laugh despite being a pile of sh*t. I don’t really understand the B-

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      So your focus is on a letter of the alphabet plus an +/- symbol rather than the movie. Got it.

      • Sweet Pea

        So, why use a scoring system if you yourself don’t think it means anything?! There you have it folks, Matt Goldberg himself has spoken; read the words he writes, but DO NOT take anything from the actual score he gives. What a bunch of imbeciles, hey Matt… Actually acknowledging the scoring system you use, gosh, some people!

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        Be honest: If the reviews didn’t have letter grades, would you even bother to read them in the first place?

      • Sweet Pea

        The funny thing is I do find it useful, cause until I have seen a movie you have reviewed, I actually do skip to the bottom and read your summary paragraph and see what grade you’ve given it so I avoid any possible spoliers. I do like your reviews, I just find your writing style really irritating. You obviously have a great grasp of cinema and story telling which makes the serious straight-forward parts of your reviews a good read and insightful, but you try way too hard to be funny, sardonic and clever in all your writing but it just isn’t there most of the time and is grating.

      • Kyle Chandler

        I don’t really know of any reviews that put a lot of stock in the letter or number grade. It is always subjective, just like the review. Readers tend to demand grades, which is a very human response.

        Nobody claimed it was a mathematical formula, so don’t get bent out of shape.

    • the king of comedy

      I think what Matt meant is that this is worth to watch, you can laugh and even have a good time, something that doesn`t happen with movies such as grown ups 2 or or the scary movies, but other than that this isn`t something that`ll stay with you, while the plot is admitedly silly I think this movie might just used a silly plot in order to bring as many laughs as it could while lacking a soul, watch it if you have nothing else to do

  • Person

    This is actually one of the kinder reviews I’ve skimmed so far. At this point I’ll probably just wait for the DVD, but I was really hoping for great things out of this one. Oh well.

  • MJ

    Sounds awful. Thanks for saving me $12, Matt. I read your review, and BASED ON WHAT YOU ACTUALLY SAID IN YOUR REVIEW, it’s a C- at best, so I will ignore you partial suck-up of inexplicably giving it a B-. It would have been nice though if you had cut Transcendence as much slack as this dog.

    MacFarlane will never be able carry a movie as an actor, comedic or otherwise. He should stay in the directors chair and let the pros do the work — that’s why Ted worked pretty well.

  • diazfan209

    I might just be jealous of how rich he is, but I can’t stand Seth MacFarlane. His brand of comedy is as bland as a rice-cake to me.

  • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

    I find if funny that people are excited/glad that this film will probably bomb based on the current reviews and prior trailers. Not sure why the hate for MacFarlane is since all he did was star in a film that he wrote/directed after years of using his voice for his own shows/films. Mel Brooks did the same w his films, even though he played a supporting character in most of them, he still was the star of several of his own films and no one considered those a vanity project. I find it ironic that only a few years ago people were championing this guy when Family Guy was cancelled (multiple times) and now that he’s made it big in the comedy industry they are now wanting to see him fail because they think he’s arrogant or over exposed. It’s similiar to how a lot of people hate Seth Rogan/Adam Sandler/Will Farrell/Jim Carry or any other talent that is at the top of the comedy industry. I guess it’s only a matter of time before Paul Rudd joins that list.

    • http://www.JustPressPlay.net Lex Walker

      Mel Brooks’s films, however, were consistently funny. Even his lesser works are still pretty damned hilarious the first time you see them (especially if you’re familiar with the source material he’s riffing on – for example, Space Balls isn’t nearly as funny if you haven’t seen Star Wars and a few other famous movies). Blazing Saddles? Always funny. The point being: his films had plenty of comedic substance so it didn’t rely on the director mugging for and winking at the camera to make the audience laugh, thus no one held his presence against him. It’s the difference between fully embracing a joke and trying to convince the audience that you agree with them that the joke is lame, so you can both laugh at it together. The former is definitely funnier than the latter, and the former is the essence of Mel Brooks’s movies, while the latter is MacFarlane.

      • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

        Not all of Mel Brook’s films are golden eggs (see High Anxiety). But yes I agree w what you are saying in regards to their comedic styles – I guess I enjoy them both as they have a simliar but yet different taste. But like I said I don’t understand the “hate” MacFarlane gets. I feel that since the day it was announced that he was starring in this film people have been bashing it. IDK. Maybe it’s just overexposure at this point but a lot of his hate is unwarranted.

      • http://www.JustPressPlay.net Lex Walker

        I don’t know, do an Alfred Hitchcock marathon of maybe five suspense movies and then watch High Anxiety, and it’ll probably be funnier than it’s ever been (a lot of its jokes are really specific to Hitchcock/old timey thriller and really don’t work without a few of those as a primer) – but yeah, it’s one of his lesser works. I don’t think this spat of MacFarlane hate is new, it’s just rolling over from all those people who still are annoyed Fox gave the man 3 shows so quickly (one of which has long since exhausted its potential (Family Guy), one of which never had potential (Cleveland Show), and another which took a while to really find itself). It really is overexposure, and I think it didn’t backfire on Ted only because Ted was so funny that people begrudgingly liked it.

  • mattinacan

    i’m surprised by how nice you were to this movie

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