Nov 24, 2014

[Movies] A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

I'm not much of a Seth MacFarlane fan for one reason or another. I suppose the fact that one of the most common adjectives used to describe his humor includes "juvenile" explains a bit part of the reason behind my general lack of interest. But I recognize that he's developed enough of a fan following to mean that I can't entirely ignore him at this point. And these days, he seems more and more interested in making movies.

A Million Ways to Die in the West really felt like a project that came out of nowhere. Thus far MacFarlane's work has capitalized on his ability to capture Boston humor in his TV shows and even his movies. But to go in a completely different direction by making a Western instead of something in a more modern setting did strike me as rather odd.

But h was able to gather quite the cast for this movie, and so I was a little more than curious to see how things would ultimately turn out. Ted had been a rather entertaining movie that certainly helped demonstrate that MacFarlane had the ability to be more than just a TV creator. In contrast, this movie fumbled in many other ways.

Synopsis: A Million Ways to Die in the West is an American Western comedy movie written and directed by Seth MacFarlane together with co-screenwriters Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.

It's 1882 in the town of Old Stump somewhere in Arizona. We meet the rather cowardly Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) who manages to talk his way out of a duel. This public act of cowardice becomes the final straw for his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to decide to leave him. Beyond just leaving him, she immediately gets involved with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who runs the mustache shop in town. The thought of her leaving him for Foy drives Albert to consider moving out of town and live in San Francisco instead since life out in the Wild West just isn't for him.

Around the same time, the infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) continues about his bandit practices and dispatches his man Lewis (Evan Jones) to escort his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to Old Stump to try and lie low for a while. But once in town, they manage to get into your classic Wild West bar fight and that leads to Lewis being arrested and Anna being "rescued" from the fight by Albert. The two begin to form an odd friendship, which certainly brightens Albert's mood. But that can only go on for so long given the near constant annoyance represented by Louise and Foy.

This movie is never meant to be some accurate depiction of the Wild West, of course. It can take a number of liberties given it's a comedy. And thus we have characters like Albert who speak in modern vernacular while other supporting characters still speak in a manner more appropriate for the period. We also have a lot of the jokes centering around the audience seeing how "funny" things are because of how different they are compared to today And while the characters themselves don't directly state this angle of humor, the way they stress things and the limitations of frontier medicine and other things is what drives the comedic tone of the movie.

And this makes the humor pretty dry, which is somewhat par for the course as far as MacFarlane is concerned. But at the same time it doesn't quite work, or at least it doesn't seem to carry sufficient weight to drive the movie forward.

It probably doesn't help that MacFarlane as a live actor is a little in terms of how he performs. His face seems almost frozen in this one generally blank expression and as everything happens around, he doesn't seem to be emotionally engaged. We're told that he loved his first girlfriend, Louise, but we never really see this love demonstrated. It's obvious that the movie wants him to get involved with Charlize Theron, but even their little montage of spending time together doesn't really tell the story of a relationship forming.

Then you have all these quirky side characters including Foy, Albert's best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his hooker girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) vying for attention. Throw in all the different cameos in the movie and you have a lot of noise that doesn't really contribute to the story.

A Million Ways to Die in the West clearly was a project that amused MacFarlane, but it ends up feeling like one of those inside jokes that everyone else doesn't quite get. I watched this movie more for its cameos and supporting cast, but they weren't enough to salvage this movie. Thus it only gets 2 examples of ways to die in the west mentioned in the movie out of a possible 5.


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