Movie Review: Playing the awful for laughs in ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’

Fatal can be funny: Neil Patrick Harris and Seth MacFarlane in
Fatal can be funny: Neil Patrick Harris and Seth MacFarlane in "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’
★★★

It’s not “Blazing Saddles” or even “Evil Roy Slade,” but Seth MacFarlane’s rude and raunchy old-west comedy is more clever than you might expect, now and then, and it’s even funny at its stupidest thanks to an exceedingly game supporting cast.

Depending on how much tolerance you have for mid-gunfight attacks of explosive diarrhea.

 

After MacFarlane’s live-action debut “Ted” (in which he provided the voice of the titular foul-mouthed CGI teddy bear) earned $549-million two years ago, the creator of Fox TV’s “Family Guy is taking more of a risk here. Not only by making a parody of an almost forgotten genre but doing it up right, complete with John Ford/Monument Valley backdrops and an Elmer Bernstein-esque score.

As the mild-mannered sheep farmer Albert, MacFarlane has an anachronistically ironic hipster disdain for the danger and idiocy of 1880s frontier life, which he sums up as “a disgusting, awful, dirty cesspool of despair.”

It’s easy to see why Albert feels out of place after he’s forced to fast-talk his way out of a gunfight and dumped by his long-term girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried, tolerating numerous jokes about her big eyes) during the first couple of scenes. That’s in addition to Albert’s ongoing amazement on the many ways a person can die horribly in his little town of Old Stump: being crushed by a giant block of ice, gored by a runaway steer, with a throat cut by a rogue tumbleweed.

Things start to get better for Albert when he inexplicably attracts the attention of the gorgeous, mysteriously gun-savvy Anna (Charlize Theron), a gorgeous recent arrival who shares his snarky outlook and sets out to restore his confidence — leading to budding romance.

But it all gets far worse when he learns Anna is married to the territory’s most vicious outlaw, the vengeance-seeking Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). Suddenly, Albert has to get in touch with his inner hero.

MacFarlane is a likeable presence in his in-person movie debut, which basically amounts to a running stand-up act about the messed-upness of the old West.

Yet he’s oddly bland and inexpressive compared to his supporting cast, including Sarah Silverman as the overworked town whore, Giovanni Ribisi as her sex-deprived fiancé (as Christians, they’re saving themselves for marriage) and Neil Patrick Harris, who almost steals the show as the elaborately moustached dandy Foy, who steals Albert’s girlfriend.

As director, he stages some elaborate set-pieces, including a barroom brawl, a song-and-dance number in praise of moustaches and a Dali-like psychedelic dream sequence. And he provides plenty of the poop and pee-pee gross-outs his young bedrock audience expects, some of it working surprisingly well, considering. (Mainly considering how much someone like Harris can do with a scene involving a powerful laxative and a borrowed hat.)

MacFarlane also sneaks in some wittier stuff, though, typically in little throwaway lines, observations in the lulls between outbursts of slapstick and scatology. Like his almost joke about a stray sheep in a whorehouse. Or his description of Parkinson’s disease as “one of those mysterious ways God shows he loves us.”

There’s just enough of it to keep “A Million Ways to Die in the West” from being all-the-way stupid and elevate the whole exercise to an at least slightly more sophisticated level. And to suggest that there could possibly be more and better to come from the “Family Guy” guy.

Tags:

0 Comments



Modal