A Million Ways To Die In The West (**) feels like a lazy man’s Altman

a million ways to die in the west

A Million Ways To Die In The West – 2014

Director Seth MacFarlane
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson
Screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

Comedy is hard. Part of MacFarlane’s gig to now has shoved awkward down the throats of those who are affected by it. In the old west, though, no one seems to care about awkward. Like his character Albert Stark, MacFarlane spend much of his film shooting in the general direction of comedy, but often misses the mark. Even with poison bullets, it takes a while to sink in, then you may well be dead.

Albert Stark is a sheep farmer who’s had it with the ways of the Old West. He thinks life is too hard for the benefit. This feeling is exacerbated once he parts ways with his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried). Her character is much disparaged when she ends up in the arms of Foy (Harris). Really, though, she just wants her man to do something other than hang out with his virgin best friend (Ribisi, finally not playing a nutcase) while he waits for his girlfriend (Silverman) to finish whoring for the day.

Into the mix rides Anna (Theron), who has parted ways (temporarily) with her husband Clinch (Neeson). Clinch is a bad guy who always shoots on two and Anna is the woman who watches it happen and waits for things to get better. She has no problem confronting jerks who aren’t her husband, but she sure knows how to sit on the sideline and wait for the principal protagonist and antagonist duke it out. So much for the progress made by The Quick and the Dead…in 1995.

Much of A Million Ways…feels like the smart ass at the party who is better than everyone there. They practice lines on each other that are about all the people they cannot tolerate. Then they leave early and do drugs, all the while reminding us that they’d never do drugs. One can almost see the writers sitting in a room bouncing jokes from one another in a sycophant love fest, doing the same drugs they are writing about. Quaint.

Why would so much of this work for TED, but not even come close to a memorable laugh here? Context, is my guess. No one in the West gave a crap about Muslim death chants or having a split Jewish heritage. A bunch of feckless cameos don’t really raise the bar, either. The best one, featuring Doc Brown, was based on the weakest entry of the series that featured him.

In truth, I didn’t really hate this movie at all. I just did not like it much. The only likable character, Theron’s Anna, felt like she drove a Hot Rod Prius off the lot at the end of the day. The most inspired bit was about the County Fair. This reviewer hates them almost as much as the writers do. Oh, and I did like that Mila Kunis is actually a word in Apache.

The soundtrack is loud with an unmemorable tune. There is a song about mustaches and I really think the fixation on them only happened with the cowboys who waved handkerchiefs. The actors wander through the scenes that seem to be sketched out…barely. None of these actors are ready to present Altman-type material. They are just waiting for their next smoke break.

(** out 0f *****)

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