There’s a moment in Seth MacFarlane’s previous film, “Ted,” where Ted the bear makes a joke, which is then told again by another character in a slightly different way. Ted then remarks in a condescending manner that the character did nothing more but repackage his own joke and deliver it again.
It was an ironic moment because MacFarlane, for all of his perceived edginess, has been doing that for years. Despite a setting that, in a more flexible comedian’s hands, should prevent the same old gags from reoccurring, his latest, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” manages to include more of the redundant, played out humor he’s known for in a shoddy looking movie with a poor story and jokes that are intended to shock or offend rather than amuse. While I’m sure fans will find something to appreciate, I personally found this to be the worst comedy since Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups 2” and easily one of the worst of the year.
The thin plot follows Albert (MacFarlane), a lowly sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has just broken up with him and he’s lost without her. In an effort to win her back, he befriends a pretty woman named Anna (Charlize Theron), who agrees to pose as his new girlfriend and teach him the skills he needs to impress her. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is actually the wife of the most famous outlaw in the West, Clinch (Liam Neeson), and if he finds out what Albert is doing with Anna, he’s a-gonna be lookin’ for revenge.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” starts promisingly enough. Similar to a film from the heyday of the Western genre, the credits play before the movie starts, complete with a stylized font, while sweeping shots of the majestic Western lands and a musical composition befitting of the genre set the stage for your senses.
Unfortunately, any hopes for intelligent genre parody, or even homage, are dashed shortly after, the bulk of the film’s jokes coming from a mindset that believes merely hearing modern phrases and curse words in the context of the old West is somehow funny. When the first joke is meant to instill giggles in the 13 year olds in the audience who still think merely hearing a curse word is funny, you naturally assume “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is likely to put forth a minimum amount of effort.
And such assumptions aren’t only justified; they’re proven to be correct. As the film goes on, it repeatedly sinks to the lowest common denominator, relying once again on the most puerile jokes imaginable. To put things into perspective, a penis joke, gay joke and racist joke all appear within the first minute of Albert’s introduction, and the rest of the film never rises above it.
Take, for instance, the recurring jokes about a Christian prostitute “saving” herself for marriage, which aren’t funny the first two or three times, much less the 14th or 15th times when the film still hasn’t let it go by the end of its overly long and exhausting two hour runtime. At one point, a periphery character makes a lousy joke and Albert turns toward the camera and asks why anyone would think what is being said is funny, the irony being that I had been asking myself the same thing the entire movie, as nothing that comes before it (or after) is any better.
If one relief comes from this film, it’s that there isn’t a 9/11 joke, a strange fixation MacFarlane has, what with it appearing in both “Ted” and countless episodes of “Family Guy.” One could argue the exclusion is due to the time period the film is set in, but such is not the case, particularly when he makes references to other films with non-sequiturs that differentiate themselves from MacFarlane’s television endeavors only in that there are no cutaways; they are instead just stumbled upon.
What it all boils down to is that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is lazy. Its jokes are obvious, like when it unamusingly points out that a single dollar was a lot of money back then, and many of them are in poor taste, like when Albert and Anna go to the “Runaway Slave” shooting booth at the town fair. There are a handful of deserving chuckles, usually when the film actually makes an attempt to parody the times, but those moments are few and far between and certainly aren’t plentiful enough to justify sitting through this bloated and meandering comedic disaster.