A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

4:11 PM

Someone warned me that I should watch A Million Ways to Die in the West only if I wanted to see Neil Patrick Harris shit into a hat for two minutes straight. Oddly enough, that was a selling point. Unfortunately it's one of the only laugh-out-loud scenes in the film. 

The year is 1882. Seth MacFarlane is Albert, a down on his luck sheep farmer, ditched by the doe-eyed Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the local prime dickhead and moustacherie owner. Albert is in turn befriended by Anna (Charlize Theron),  faithful new friend who tries to help Albert win back Louise, and the wife of notorious bandit Clinch (Liam Neeson). Giovanni Risbsi and Sarah Silverman round out the cast as a dopey virgin and a local saloon cum dumpster, respectively. Together they all try and survive the West, a feat which proves impossible for literally everyone besides our main players.

Seth MacFarlane has fallen victim to the popular 'nice guy' delusion. Albert, the 'nice guy' in question feels sorry for himself for being the gentleman who actually cares about Louise, while Louise is played off as a cold-hearted bitch for refusing the earnest love and good intentions of the sweet Albert. Unfortunately MacFarlane is operating under the misapprehension that if you're nice and express interest in someone, you're entitled to a reciprocation of those feelings.  But really, Louise doesn't want Albert because she prefers the 'bad boy' in Foy. Louise doesn't want Albert because he's a moron who can't even look after a few sheep. If I were Louise, I'd take Foy over Albert too. And Anna does a fantastic job as well in completing the 'nice guy' circle jerk by constantly berating herself for not choosing a nice guy for a husband, while all the while throwing lingering glances at Albert. Anna is supposed to be the unflinching, resourceful woman to the half-witted Albert, but clearly even the neckbeard mentality of the present is inescapable, even in the West. If Albert wore a fedora, it'd be constantly tipping. 

Of its few redeeming qualities, the cinematography, though surprisingly beautiful, is ultimately one of its downfalls. The sweeping wide angles of plains and piles of orange rock dimly lit by sunsets are strikingly reminiscent of Winton Hoch's work in The Searchers (1956). It may as well be Charlize Theron instead of Dorothy Jordan hovering in her doorway, flanked by darkness, a view of the treacherous west ahead. A barrier created between the safety of the house, and the dangerous barren world that carries on beyond the front porch is one of the strongest visual metaphors in John Ford's masterpiece film. The image is burned into the brain of any film enthusiast. And as a self-proclaimed film enthusiast, equating a Seth MacFarlane shit flick to one of the great John Ford's is a deeply uncomfortable comparison to make. Especially so considering that it's drawing similarity between the man who created John Wayne, and the man who created Peter Griffin. But that's the heart of the problematic nature of MacFarlane's Fordian imagery. However legitimate his vision may have been to capture the ruthless setting, Seth MacFarlane is still just creating a sub-par vehicle for himself, clinging desperately to the coattails of the much funnier Ted (2011). The level and frequency of visually striking shots is completely discordant with the try-hard humour that follows.

Speaking of, A Million Way to Die in the West  is sold as a comedy but the volume of jokes that fall flat might be record-setting. I'm not going to pretend like I didn't laugh for the entire two minutes that Neil Patrick Harris while doped up on laxatives, shits in a bowler hat, but I can't recall anything else that was as funny. In fact, I can recall only three laugh out loud moments, and only six actual ways to die in the west. 

A just okay effort from Seth MacFarlane. 

My rating: 5.5 cats out of 10

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
Dir. Seth MacFarlane
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribsi, Sarah Silverman
116 mins | USA

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