A Million Ways To Die In The West (2014) – Review

Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Written by Seth MacFarlane
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried

Well, this took me a little bit by surprise. When you hear that Seth MacFarlane has directed, written and starred in a comedy western, you might be forgiven for thinking that his usual brand of edgy, barbed and acidic social comment might appear somewhere in Frontierland. And yet, A Million Ways to Die In The West practically removes almost entirely what MacFarlane has become famous for. Even the poster nods to the creator of ‘Ted’, possibly pitching this project at his adoring Family Guy/American Dad audience. But honestly, if that is what you’re going to see this film for, then you are going to come away angrier than a six-foot fighting chicken with a really sore knee.AMWTDITW is at its heart, nothing more than a simple love story. MacFarlane plays Albert, a largely unsuccessful sheep farmer in the old west. Madly head over heels in love with his sweetheart Louise (Amanda Seyfried),  he is a simple soul that wants for little more out of life than to be happy with the love of a good woman by his side. When she becomes disillusioned with her lot and the lot of her husband to be, she promptly dumps him for the local dastardly moustachier (?) Foy, in the form of the impeccably coiffured Neil Patrick Harris.

Before all of this, however, we are regaled with Albert’s particular view of life in the old west and how it is full of a host of interesting ways to be killed. One of the central themes that resurfaces in the film is just how horrible it was to live in this period and locale of history, if only for those reasons mentioned. Forget the fact that Albert would have little frame of reference, not having had the questionable pleasure of animated sitcoms by this stage.

Running parallel to Albert’s story of  incredulous survival and relationship woes is another less savoury but nonetheless equally deserving thread, involving the most violent and lethal man on the entire frontier, Clinch (played by a suitably dusty and grizzled Liam Neeson) whose gang are on their way to town. His wife, Anna (Charlize Theron) arrives in the town ahead of the gang and by lucky happenstance during a bar brawl at the town’s saloon, bumps into the hapless, and now single, Albert.

From this point, the beautiful Anna befriends poor, sweet Albert and they become firm friends, on the initial premise of making Luoise jealous. I mean, Charlize Theron is smoking hot, after all (a fach she herself alludes to herself, so no, I’m not being a mysoginist). Why the wife of a mass murderer would waste time on the lowly Albert is not clear, but what we do know is that she really doesn’t like her husband one bit. She is clearly a good soul, as is Albert, and it appears both of them have been on the recieving end of some shoddy treatment, emotionally speaking. So can you guess what happens?

Well, you don’t get a prize because it’s just so bloody obvious, frankly.

On rare occasions, we do border on the razor sharp MacFarlane wit, but these instances are so few and far between as to become negligible in a movie that is just not anything like what it was pitched as. Given MacFarlane’s current audience that enjoys the likes of Ted, Family Guy etc, this is a real letdown for his fans, although not a complete failure as a film in its own right. If you had never heard of MacFarlane before, or were oblivious to any of his previous work, you might call this a fairly bawdy, sometimes risque comedy western that still manages to maintain a good heart. Okay, so there are dancing sheep and more than any films’ fair share of facial hair, not to mention cameos from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Jamie Foxx, Christopher Lloyd and a huge chunk of very dangerous ice, but this still feels like MacFarlane dancing to Hollywood’s tune. As if he is becoming a little too safe.

Sometimes funny with acceptable performances, AMWTDITW is entertaining throughout and you will not be bored at any stage, but given the very high bar MacFarlane has already set for himself, this is both average fare as a rom-com and a significant question mark about whether MacFarlane still has the same balls that he wrote the first season of Family Guy with. Just watch the trailer, practically all of the jokes are in there anyway.

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