A Million Ways to Die in the West Directed by: Seth McFarlane Cast: Seth McFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi Running Time: 1 hr 56 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 30, 2014
PLOT: A cowardly sheep farmer (McFarlane) woos an outlaw's wife (Theron) while trying to get over the girl (Seyfried) who dumped him for a man with a big mustache (Harris).
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans who like how McFarlane understands life, but can handle having to deal with his lead acting in live-action.
Le cinéma de McFarlane was born in 2012 when the white bro's Tyler Perry directed Ted, a blockbuster comedy that appealed to an audience that looooves when its leading men act like boys, but now sweetened with the image of a teddy bear suggestively squirting lotion on its face. With that debut (in which he voiced the title character) McFarlane expanded upon the irreverent nature from his popular TV-14 shows and applied it as pickax to the potential gold mine of R-rated comedies. Ted also continued McFarlane's perspective concerning how he sees film, and consequently how he sees the world, shown nonetheless through Mark Wahlberg's middle-aged American man who was raised through the 80s within the radiation Beantown's non-PC ball-busting. One can imagine that this character certainly must have been written by McFarlane, a middle-aged American man raised through the 80s, within the radiation of Beantown's non-PC ball-busting, who loves also old movies and musicals.
McFarlane's latest is like if that Walhberg character skimmed over a history book, and then babbled incredulously about how awful life must have been in a time previous than his own. This film is crucially outside of the modern cultural & geographical placement that could be better explained like Ted, but the context remains the same for A Million Ways to Die in the West - that of a modern American living in an industrialized society where medicine can be procured, or pictures taken without instant death. The McFarlane perspective makes for even shallower jokes when placed within a different period. A Million Ways to Die in the West begs the usage of a #firstworldproblems punctuating hashtag, an option to replace its ominous, wordy title, and a phrase now considered too-legit by Oxford Dictionary.
McFarlane tackles the west in a way that fits his taste for wholesome aesthetics, but within his emblematic perspective informed by pop culture and his surroundings. The opening credits swoop through synonymous New Mexico vistas while classic typeface takes up minutes of the film's time, but then characters from 1882 Arizona speak with a modern hitch, saying things like "Look, the west f**ckin' sucks" and earlier by little coincidence, "Oh no, I did-uhnt!" Eschewing overt anachronisms, A Million Ways to Die in the West dedicates itself to busting the balls of people who are indeed already super dead.
McFarlane's parade around the bases for the money-maker that was Ted, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a famous person dress-up party. As director, McFarlane doesn't so much cast supporting actors but grab people that can become walking pop culture references. His supporting actors are thankfully playful with the movie's irreverence to the era, but their simple existence in the movie overshadows their contributions as actors. Neil Patrick Harris provides a tiresome wink about the ingredients of manhood, the hilarious Charlize Theron is minimized to dote on McFarlane's golly-gosh Marty McFly dream, and Amanda Seyfried is cast for the script's two jokes about her big eyes. The story of Sarah Silverman's slutty girlfriend in love with a dumb wholesome man played by Giovanni Ribisi might be another direct product from the McFarlane wheelhouse, but their jokes about the niceties of courtship mixed with the business of prostitution are fitfully gross and cute. (It is worth mentioning that Ribisi becomes a reference not to his previous filmography but to Ted, flamboyantly dancing while sipping from a straw in the same manner that he does within McFarlane's debut.)
Liam Neeson's appearance is a grab-bag namedrop similar to the recurring Tom Skeritt joke in Ted. While set-up to play the villain, he is hardly in the film, only here to use his automatic Neeson presence for the opposite of manhood to McFarlane. Neeson carries this simplicity as he looks like he just shuffled off the set of Non-Stop, and then traversed across the parking lot of Universal Studios to wear a cowboy hat for this film. Though used as the antithesis to McFarlane's self-proclaimed "giant p***y" of a character, McFarlane could just as easily have named Neeson's character after the actor's real name.
Of all these talented actors, McFarlane is in the center, an actor with more experience voicing characters, or even hosting the Oscars, than in being in front of the camera. McFarlane's desire to entertain does not equal the skills he has as an actor. His presence on-camera can be as awkward as his fidgety dialogue recitation for words he wrote himself. McFarlane appears uncomfortable with big emotion (shock, fear), and is best at freewheeling word sprees (such as a nearly anachronistic overview of a million ways to die in said west). With one assuming he wouldn't sabotage himself while acting as his own editor, some of his line-readings can be uncomfortable, his stiff presence as actor blending with his character as happens with his supporting group. But, he certainly isn't as put-together as the other leads he shares the screen with.
The most awkward part of his own film, McFarlane is worse than just a rough actor, but he becomes an aura of vanity that threatens to suck away all the other potential fun of this cartoonish western romp. A wholesome courtship between him and Theron becomes forced, and the notion of earning hero points loses an audience left hoping for more teases of anachronisms. McFarlane's biggest shot in the foot is his lack of awareness, especially when indulging himself in oodles of Theron's attentive chortles, a storyline that pats him on the head for his anti-alpha underdog inclinations, and in casting himself in the lead role despite being out-shined by everyone else on-screen. The film's lightness in parody halts right in front of his self-presentation, which is not how movies like spoofs (which are based entirely on awareness) work. Taking on conventions is a two-way street down Awareness Boulevard, you can't diss it if you can't take it, etc. Awareness needs to be a complete part of the send-up experience, otherwise the unaware parts within the parody film are even more exposed. McFarlane's vanity is compared to those Scary Movie sequels that no one watches except for me and dumb teenagers - however lazy its humor may be, the most egregious aspect is their stubborn blind eye to their own selfish choices.
Its non-western story constantly riffing on western tropes not already taken by Blazing Saddles, A Million Ways to Die in the West provides a dotted line as to the range within le cinéma de McFarlane. In this sophomore effort, McFarlane too emblematically tries to civilize the west with what strikes close to home: dude girlfriends, vulgar everymen, slutty friends' girlfriends, and the limits of arrested development.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10