A Million Ways to Die in the West
|UK Release Date||30th May 2014|
|Reviewed||5th June 2014|
I have a lot of time for Seth MacFarlane. As a bastion of the comedy that can never go too far (Prom night dumpster baby anyone?), he has few peers. His debut live action effort, Ted, was joyously filthy and I particularly enjoyed the central relationship between Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg. I’m pretty sure you can tell where this is all going. How will Seth fare in his first live action lead man role? Oh boy….
So, A Million Ways to Die in the West (AMWTDITW from here on) brings us Seth, Seth and more Seth. Writing, producing, directing and acting his way through the old west. MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep rancher who isn’t very good with sheep. Albert loses the hand of his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) after a particularly cowardly performance at a gun fight, just as two strangers appear in town. After saving one of the strangers, Anna (Charlize Theron) from a bar fight, she takes it upon herself to help him prove himself to Louise - who has recently taken up with dastardly moustache emporium owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Somewhere in this Albert hangs out with best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend and local hooker Ruth (Sarah Silverman). Oh, and Anna’s husband is a notorious killer due into town in twelve days.
What all of this amounts to is probably pretty funny in script form but put up on screen, well, it just doesn’t translate. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve likely seen the majority of the best bits - although bizarrely some of the funny bits in the trailer must have ended up on the cutting room floor. Which means if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve actually seen more of the funny bits than if you’ve seen the film. Go figure.
I spent most of the movie trying to work out just why I wasn’t laughing and in the end I have to lay the blame entirely at MacFarlane’s feet. Which isn’t a complete surprise given how much involvement he has in this film but it’s his screen presence I have an issue with here. In that he barely has one. Despite being in pretty much every frame. Which is a crippling shame for this movie as it has some great lines and some really funny slapstick (no mean feat). For all his voice acting talent (he was great as Ted), when put in front of a camera, he not only loses his charisma, he positively drains it from everyone around him. It’s very rare for me to actually sit and think ‘that was a funny line’ without even cracking a smile but that happened to me on so many occasions in this movie.
Gag after gag spew out of MacFarlane with most absolutely not registering on the funny bone. Things that you would have chuckled at if you’d read them make no impact at all. It’s a dispiriting experience. The rest of the cast do their best - Theron is as strong as ever and Ribisi and Silverman’s relationship is charmingly off centre. Liam Neeson does his growly best as Anna’s psychotic husband, only Harris fails to really register as Foy - he’s kind of amusingly weasely but never really seems to commit. And there is of course the now mandatory role call of celebrity cameos which veer from the completely pointless (Ryan Reynolds) to the actually brilliant (can’t say who because it will spoil the gag).
MacFarlane has fun with a wide variety of targets, all wrapped in a pretty well shot old school western style. If you’re familiar with his other work, you’ll pretty much know what to expect, though that will probably just heighten your disappointment at the delivery. I really can’t communicate my disappointment about AMWTDITW well enough. If MacFarlane had had the nous to cast a proper comedy actor in the central role, it could have all been so different. But he didn’t. Instead he wanders around the movie, spewing out lines like a man reading a phone book. And this made me sad.
Check out the trailer here.