Seth MacFarlane brings his “Family Guy” and “Ted” mentality to the Old West as co-writer, director and star of “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” an expectedly crude, raunchy, sometimes gross comedy that hits a lot of marks and goes too far in others.
But it also offers some riotous laugh-out-loud moments. It’s the bad movie you won’t admit you enjoyed. But be warned: nothing – absolutely nothing – is sacred, and if you can’t stand MacFarlane’s profane humor, then stay far away.
MacFarlane plays Albert, a cowardly, inept sheep herder who hates the hard life that the frontier has given him.
After he backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend, Anna (Amanda Seyfried), leaves him.
“I just need to work on me,” she says.
Albert is heartbroken. Adding to his despair and feelings of inadequacy, Anna hooks up with the town’s successful businessman, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a “moustachery” owner. What Albert can’t offer Anna – luxury and success – Foy can offer her in spades.
So Albert saunters off, beaten. He seeks solace with his friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman), and a lot of alcohol. A particularly funny scene involves Albert riding his horse home, even after Edward warned him that he shouldn’t “drink and horse.”
Then a beautiful and mysterious gunslinger named Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town and strikes up a friendship with Albert. She vows to help Albert win back Anna, and in the process Albert challenges Foy to a gunfight, even though he has no idea how to handle a gun. He has one week to learn.
So Anna teaches him how to shoot, and they (no spoiler here) begin to have feelings for each other.
But then Anna’s violent, jealous husband Clinch (Liam Neeson, nicely playing against type) arrives with his gang in tow, and demands to meet the man who was seen kissing her. Clinch lays down a dare for the man to meet him the next day for a gunfight at high noon or he will start killing innocent townspeople.
MacFarlane’s comedic style and language doesn’t exactly gel in a Western, there are more F-bombs than people in the movie. But he does poke fun at the genre with mostly funny results.
Some other jokes and gags fall flat. But there are several funny ones and sub-plots that cause chuckles, one involving Edward, a virgin, and Ruth, a prostitute who refuses to have sex with him until they’re married. Ribisi and Silverman are spot-on and game.
So is the rest of the cast, and they’re clearly having fun, which saves the film from being total trash.
MacFarlane may have been going for a “Family Guy”-era “Blazing Saddles.” It’s a guilty pleasure, at best. There are worse ways to go slumming.
Because “A Million Ways to Die” is totally as advertised – tacky, bawdy and sophomoric. If you expect anything else, cowboy, you only have yourself to blame.