Review: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST Strikes Comedy Gold
From the opening credits of director Seth MacFarlane's latest offensive and broad comedy, it is clear that he is wearing his Family Guy hat, although one can argue it is permanently affixed to his head.
The ode to the woeful Wild West plays out with a big score by composer Joel McNeely, the big old style font shoots up on screen accompanying it with stunning cinematography that covers the mountain ranges of Arizona. As impressive as these credits are, they immediately recall a Family Guy special starring Brian the dog; both this and that are feature length forays into another time and place that are introduced the same way.
MacFarlane himself appears on screen first as the 'pussy' protagonist, guiding us through his delightfully twisted version of 1880's America. He plays Albert, a sad-sack sheep farmer who has lost the love of his life Louise (Amanda Seyfried) after he embarrasses himself in a failed duel. When two gunslingers move into town disguised as simple farmers, Albert, through bizarre and semi-heroic circumstances, saves one of them, the brash and beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron). Hiding her identity, she helps Albert try to win Louise back by facing her current lover the absurd Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) in a gun fight. Unbeknownst to Albert trouble in the form of a crazed and infamous bandit Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) is on its way.
To put it bluntly, if you are a fan of Seth MacFarlane, you will love this film. A Million Ways contains the winning formula of absurd, seriously offensive and broad comedy that MacFarlane is known for. Surprisingly and thankfully the film does not parody other Westerns, it ingeniously uses the setting to belittle the barbarism of the 1880's; from jokes about primitive medicine, the economy, currency, sexism, racism and of course the death rate at the time. The mastery of how these jokes are set up and how they directly relate to the period setting provide the majority of laughs, and it is hard to predict just when these quips and asides will come.
The other major component is the extremely violent, sudden and painfully funny death scenes. Albert states that the West is a horrible place where people die every day from everything; "the doctor can kill you!" he screams. He is in fact understating the insanity of living in these colonial times, and the film throws every possible danger on-screen. Highlights in this foray include an absurdly violent bar fight and a family photo session that goes horribly awry. These moments and many more will leave you in stitches.
A Million Ways also does improvisation well. At times it become obvious that MacFarlane and company were playing off each other creating a fun vibe and from this they create some unique and fleeting moments of comedy that he decides to wisely keep in the film. A number of cameos bring a lot to the already funny scenes also and there are some truly ludicrous Family Guy style segues, one even involving a beloved 80's film.
Friends of Albert, Ruth (Sarah Silverman) and Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) play off each other well as Christian lovers who try to make their relationship work despite the fact Ruth is a filthy prostitute. Neil Patrick Harris also impresses as the fanciful metrosexual owner of a moustachery.
It is unfortunate then that A Million Ways is let down by its generic plot, filled to the brim with genre tropes and a sappy romance plot between Albert and Anna. It sometimes feels like MacFarlane is fulfilling a selfish desire to be a hero in his own action film and a lover in his own romance and these notions do not play well with the surreal and absurd comedy that permeates the film.
Get past the by-the-numbers plot and any hang-ups you may have about MacFarlane's toilet humor, and this just may be one of the best times you will have in the cinema this year.
A Million Ways to Die in the West opens in Australia nation-wide May 29.
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