"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is Seth MacFarlanes follow-up to Ted, a surprise hit that was extremely entertaining and beloved by audiences. In this one, MacFarlane is on-screen, instead of doing voice work, playing sympathetic sheepfarmer Albert, who just got dumped by his girlfriend Louise. He then meets Anna, played by Charlize Theron, who helps him man up in an attempt to get his girl back. Inevitably, he falls in love with Anna, which solves his relationship problems with Louise, but brings with it Annas husband, an infamous outlaw and the best gunfighter around.
I really like Seth MacFarlane. I think he is one of the few people operating in Hollywood who can put together an original comedy. Granted, part of his humor is based on poop and penises, which I don't find particularly funny, but those are usually kept in a working balance. Especially his use of pop culture in Family Guy and his other works is insanely funny.
Which is why it makes me so much sadder that this movie is such a disappointment. There is enough stuff in here to not make me lose faith in MacFarlane completely, but all in all, it just doesn't work. The reason for that, in my opinion, is not even necessarily that it isn't funny. Of course there is plenty of below-the-belt-humor, but some of those jokes are even saved by Neil Patrick Harris, who is hands-down the only person in this movie who delivers on every single joke, and Sarah Silverman. There are a lot of really amusing scenes in this. Watch Giovanni Ribisi and Seth MacFarlane pretend to be engaged in a barfight and tell me you didn't at least chuckle. The whole premise of all the different ways that you can die in the west is amazing and some of those gags catch you completely off-guard.... if you didn't already see them in the trailers, that is.
No, the problem here is not a lack of humor, it's the western element that did not work for me. Compare this movie with Rango, which was a wonderful western in its own right even before it inserted jokes. The reason for this is partly in the forced love triangle, that is so obviously inconsequential from the moment Anna and Albert have their meet-cute. It's also just plain boring in a lot of it's story related scenes. A Western is usually a morality piece, the good guy, always a hero, beats the bad guy, be it a corrupt sheriff or an outlaw. Here, our hero spends most of his time whining about how hard his life is, which is very amusing at times, but it prevents the audience from investing into the story.
So after all, I still believe that Seth MacFarlane is one of the funniest guys in Hollywood, which isn't that hard, because great comedies are Irish or British, not American, but this one was definitely a misfire. Maybe he needs a writing partner who can match him on his strength and alleviate his weaknesses.
As always, check out my friend Cinemartians review over here.