Thursday, May 22, 2014

MacFarlane plays to strengths in A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) - Directed by Seth MacFarlane; Written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild; Starring MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman.

By Kenny Howell

Seth MacFarlane is at his best when he is plopped down in an environment, and he gets to make fun of everything going on within it.

That makes A Million Ways to Die in the West the perfect vehicle for him. He does take it off the tracks occasionally with trying to go too far with gross out humor, as well as two really out of place pop culture references, but for the most part he stays the course.

He plays Albert, a sheep farmer who just got dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried, Lovelace). Feeling down on his luck, he turns to his best friends, Edward (Ribisi), a mild mannered man, and his prostitute girlfriend (Silverman, Take This Waltz). It doesn't help, but a new woman comes into his life. She is Anna (Theron), the wife of the deadliest man in the west, Clinch (Neeson, The Grey). She is not happy with him, as she was married away at a young age, and really hits it off with Albert. He doesn't know that she is taken by the murderous Clinch, and that fact looms over the film, as Albert prepares for a shootout with Louise's new boyfriend, a mustachioed man named Foy (Harris). He wants to show his bravery, and really is just ticked off at Foy for cutting him down because of his lack of wealth.

Albert and Anna are kind of from another time. Not technically in the film, but they can both sit outside of the world they live and realize how terrible it is. There are things that can kill you around every corner, and it just makes life a constant anxiety attack. As I mentioned above, that fits well with MacFarlane's persona. The movie is at its best when he is observing the horrible place in which he lives, pointing out all the death, disease and murder that was a way of life back then.

For the most part, he keeps to that tone. Albert is terribly misplaced in this world, so he makes himself the butt of the joke, as well as everyone around him. But MacFarlane is MacFarlane, and can't resist getting some modern pop culture references slipped in there, and while both of them are humorous on their own, they certainly stick out within the movie. It slightly steers its way into parody in those instances, which doesn't gel with the rest of the film. That, and of course there are diarrhea and urine jokes, both of which didn't really add anything to the movie.

There are enough laughs to make this worth the time, and I enjoyed it much more than Ted, whose joke ran stale fairly early. This one keeps hitting its high points, and when MacFarlane stays within the narrative world he created, it is quite funny.

A Million Ways to Die in the West releases in theaters May 30.

Rating: ***

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