The 400-Word-Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West
By Sean Collier
May 30, 2014
While I’m reluctant to indulge in long-distance diagnosis — particularly with an over-utilized charge — there’s no other way to put it. Seth MacFarlane’s creative works are attention deficit disorder writ in fiction.
Such was the case with “Family Guy,” the still-enduring cartoon that willfully traded depth of character and structural development for quick (but admittedly hilarious) gags and a sort of palatable absurdism that hit nearly every college-aged viewer just right for over a decade. Such was also the case with Ted, MacFarlane’s first feature film, which mined a clever central trope well — recasting the ubiquitous slacker manchild of 2000s comedy as a stuffed, barely-animate toy is actually clever commentary. Ted just stumbled badly when it came to, y’know, the plot and stuff.
And again with A Million Ways to Die in the West, MacFarlane’s sophomore effort, the jokes are there; it’s consistency that’s lacking. MacFarlane stars (and directs, and writes, and produces) as Albert Stark, a golly-gee nice guy who’s none too happy to live in the 1800s frontier, where the reaper lies at every corner and there’s very little fun to be had. When his bonnets-and-parasols girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried, underwritten) dumps him for a mustachioed lothario (Neil Patrick Harris, hilarious), a mysterious stranger (Charlize Theron, easily the MVP here) helps our hero learn to shoot straight and walk tall. But don’t get comfortable: Liam Neeson is around, and he’s angry. (Then again, when isn’t he?)
The setup is entertaining — they’re playing it straight, but the dialogue and attitudes are deliberately anachronistic. And many of the gags work. But many more don’t; for every home run, there are three strikeouts and one bloop single.
There are connections made, running jokes constructed and jabs issued that only a frenzied, spastic mind could concoct, and several are delightful. Unfortunately, MacFarlane seems to have trouble spreading his interests over every frame of a picture, or even every joke. Some are perfect creations; others feel like placeholders for a punched-up version that never arrived.
The head-scratcher is how genuinely much of it is played. Whenever it’s time for West’s plot to move, MacFarlane goes earnest — and he’s not nearly enough of a director to handle that shift. Besides, with a parody so straight-on, there’s no room for any sincerity. MacFarlane almost certainly has a great comedy in him, but he’ll need to learn to collaborate to find it.
My Rating: 6/10
Average Score on CriticsChoice.com: 54/100