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‘A Million Ways to Die’ buried in stupid

Since the inception of Family Guy back in 1999, Seth MacFarlane has proven himself to be somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
Rating: R
Running time: 116 min.
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron

A writer, director, comedian, producer, voice actor and Sinatra impersonator, the New England born performer has his hands in an assortment of creative endeavors scattered across myriad of mediums.

That he’s not particularly skilled at any of the aforementioned occupations seems beyond the point – the MacFarlane brand, dubiously titled Fuzzy Door Productions, is more interested in quantity rather than quality.

MacFarlane’s gift for crafting sharp and satiric observations of the human condition can sporadically be found throughout A Million Ways to Die In the West – his second directorial effort that is even more underwritten, misguided and profane than Ted.

Here, MacFarlane is front and center as Albert, a nebbish sheep farmer on the new frontier in Arizona, 1882.

As Albert caustically explains to his friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), the American West is a dirty and dangerous place replete with incurable diseases and rampant violence from gold-hunting outlaws.

Now that Albert’s girlfriend of 18-months (Amanda Seyfried) has left him for a man with a moustache (Neil Patrick Harris), he’s feeling especially despondent – ready to move to San Francisco and leave the cesspool that is the West behind.

What prevents him from leaving, of course, is the entrance of a new woman in town named Anna (Charlize Theron), a bright, blond and beautiful enigma who seems just as out of place as Albert.

Naturally, the two immediately connect over their mutual disdain for contemporary society.

This perceptible displacement is at the heart of every joke uttered by MacFarlane’s character – a man who seemingly hails from 21st Century America and can’t seem to figure out why the hell he’s in the West.

Coincidentally, neither can we.

About fifteen minutes into the film Albert exclaims “That went south so fast,” after a large block of ice crushes a man’s skull into millions of pieces.

What a perfect summation of A Million Ways to Die In the West – a film that falls apart at the seams so quickly that you begin actively dreading its existence by about minute 45.

The film trudges along as it must, focusing on Albert’s mission to prove to his ex-girlfriend that’s he’s not a nerdish man ridden with cowardice. To do this he challenges her new boyfriend to a deathly shootout, winner “gets” the girl.

This standard Western shootout allows Anna and Albert some one on one time, where she teaches him how to fire a gun. Thankfully this spawns one of the film’s few enjoyable sequences – a training montage in which Albert gleefully attempts to become the marksman he’s not.

What follows is a tired exercise in scatology, a film laced with enough poop, piss and penis joke to last a lifetime.

It’s baffling to me why MacFarlane, a man who has proven himself to be adept at satirizing and mocking everyone and everything, consistently resorts to this humor.

Like any Family Guy episode of the past 5 years, A Million Ways to Die In the West does host a few solid jokes: a bit about the appearance of the dollar bill in a time where five cents is a lot of money, or a mayor whose dead carcass has been lying in the alley unattended for several days, remind you of MacFarlane’s comic abilities.

But quality gags are buried in a bevy of stupidity.

There’s also an eerie and uncomfortable male-driven agenda pulsating through the veins of both this film and Ted. 

In both features, MacFarlane’s leading men are hitched to gorgeous women that are slowly growing tired of their boyfriend’s juvenile antics. Eventually, that weariness leads to separation, thus forcing each male character to reflect and, ideally over time, grow.

However, both films reach similar conclusions: Albert and John (Mark Wahlberg) are just fine the way they are. The onus is not on the men to evolve, but the females to realize how lucky they were to have such a great guy.

It’s this underlying philosophy that propels A Million Ways to Die In the West forward, or more accurately, backward.

Regressive and clichéd, MacFarlane’s sophomoric trifle proves that he’s incapable of producing and sustaining quality comedy over the period of a feature-length film.

The film ultimately feels like it would be better suited as a half-hour episode of television or a small sketch on SNL. I’d even watch the skit on SNL, pending MacFarlane promises not to break out into song and dance as the host.

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