A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane, 2014)
Not everyone is a fan of animated TV hit Family Guy, but I certainly am. It’s not at all PC but it gets away with it. It’s funny, it’s random, and every now and then they have a fully-fledged musical number so I’m TOTALLY ON BOARD. I was excited to see creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film, Ted (2012) a couple of years ago to see what he could do with a live-action film. Ted was entertaining enough, though it never quite reached the heights of those random 20 minute episodes of Family Guy. MacFarlane voiced the character of Ted (a rather crass teddy bear) in that film, and up until now we’d only really seen his face sporadically, such as when he hosted the Oscars in 2013. In his latest film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, he stars in person for the very first time. And he ain’t half bad. But I was somewhat disappointed with the film in general.
In A Million Ways to Die in the West, Albert (MacFarlane) is dumped unceremoniously by his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried) who then hooks up with the smarmy Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). As part of a bid to get Louise back, Albert must learn how to shoot, and is assisted by new girl in town, Anna (Charlize Theron) who is not quite who she says she is. Though the trailer may lead you to believe that the film is about the all-too-frequent deaths in the West, this is actually just one joke in the film, and most of the deaths are shown in that trailer. This aspect was very funny but it turns out it isn’t enough to base a whole film around. Instead a good third of the film is Albert and Anna’s bonding phase, which tries too hard to be sweet and forgets to be funny.
Part of the reason Family Guy succeeds is because it is consistently ridiculous. In a two hour feature there needs to be some narrative development (and indeed here there is) but I don’t think it’s suited to MacFarlane’s style. I sat through all the serious moments feeling bored because THIS SHOULDN’T BE SERIOUS. It certainly had its comic moments but all the crap about Albert and Anna falling for each other and then fighting for their honour, etc. detracted from what should have been good solid fun. I suppose two hours of Family Guy-type fare – in a live-action film no less – would not have worked. But it’s what I was hoping for. Nevertheless, there were many funny moments and I generally like MacFarlane’s sense of humour, but he does tend to take it a bit far at times. Diarrhoea might be funny initially, but not when you drag it out. The sexual jokes go both ways – some made me snigger but others were just a bit too cringeworthy. There are certainly some viewers who would find this film downright vulgar. They might prefer some high class British fare instead.
I don’t think MacFarlane’s casting is the issue. It surprised me how convincingly he played the straight bits and that he was able to be charming when the moment called for it. However, he does do some great voice work in his other roles, and this didn’t quite match that level of awesomeness. The whole supporting cast are great – Theron, Seyfried, Harris, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, and Giovanni Ribisi were all highly entertaining. Liam Neeson as usual was HARDCORE. Don’t mess with that dude. Neil Patrick Harris basically played the 1882 version of Barney Stinson and there was even a direct nod to How I Met Your Mother which cracked me up. Another joke about Amanda Seyfried’s face was pretty hilarious, and I appreciate that she was willing to go along with it. Sarah Silverman was a perfect choice as the prostitute saving herself for marriage, and Giovanni Ribisi was adorkable. Charlize Theron was pretty bad-ass, but sweet at the same time, and I respect that someone with her credentials would be in a film like this. A number of cameos are also littered throughout the film which are always fun, with one in particular sure to be a big hit with the nerds (I use that term with affection).
There was one major problem with this film. If I see a film with Seth MacFarlane AND Neil Patrick Harris, I expect a musical number, DAMMIT! That was all they had to do to win me over and they bloody well led me on many times. Firstly, the opening credits had a musical vibe to them, which I suppose is just parodying the Western genre but it misled me. Then there’s a barn dance which some might argue was a musical number, but if Seth and Neil don’t even sing in it then puh-lease. They did some funny dancing while a guy stood in the middle and sang an old (read: NOT EVEN WRITTEN BY MACFARLANE) song about moustaches – that is NOT sufficient. And then THERE WAS A DREAM SEQUENCE. I mean, COME ON! YOU’RE KILLING ME! As if you couldn’t insert one there! I stayed for the closing credits in the hope there would be a hidden number but alas, no (though there is something worth waiting for). The lack of a musical number really killed the film for me. The barn dance so did not count. I can’t even explain how disappointed I was about this.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Westerns (old and new) and I’d have to say this is most likely my favourite one, but then that’s not saying much. It pokes fun at the genre while paying homage to it, with a few modern-day jokes thrown in to up the silliness. Great cast, and a few good laughs, but MacFarlane + NPH should = JAZZ HANDS. Not diarrhoea.