There is a danger in attaining too much success too soon.
There are times it breeds an overwhelming and even unhealthy confidence.
There are times it makes you feel like you can truly do anything.
There are times that it plants that seed of invincibility in one's mind.
There are times, quite simply, that it leads to failure.
Welcome to failure, Seth MacFarlane.
After years of television success, awards show notoriety, and the success of his first feature film Ted, Seth MacFarlane succumbs to all of his worst self-indulgent tendencies in creating one of 2014's laziest and least satisfying comedies, A Million Ways to Die in the West.
The failure starts with MacFarlane's unfathomable decision to turn himself into a leading man. Here's a tip for you, Seth. A leading man needs charisma. A leading man needs screen presence. A leading man needs to be able to deliver a line with some degree of conviction.
In short, you are not a leading man.
If MacFarlane had managed to scoot his ego out of the way, he'd have realized that he didn't stand a chance of holding his cinematic weight alongside such true actors and actresses as Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, and the others who comprise the supporting players in the film. It astounds me that somewhere along the line a studio exec didn't watch the dailies and put a stop to this whole thing, though I suppose even the most cynical studio exec is willing to take a risk considering the guy managed to make Family Guy and Ted a success.
The film, I think, is supposed to spoof of the old Western serials bathed generously in the typical MacFarlane humor. MacFarlane plays Albert, an inept sheep farmer who obsesses about all the ways there are to die in the West and who early on in the film is dumped by his equally shallow girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Louise promptly takes up with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the owner of the local moustachery and a man who is able to give her wrapped candies.
We know this because, I believe, it is said no less than three times in five minutes. Being that this is a MacFarlane, I kept looking for the double entendre and even when I finally found one it still wasn't funny.
With yet another reason to hate the wild West at hand, Albert's raging insecurities are soothed when the clearly out of his league Anna (Charlize Theron) shows up in town and takes a liking to his seemingly gentle nature. I mean, seriously, this guy is so passive he makes the Quakers look like warmongers. Of course, the audience knows what Albert doesn't and that's that Anna is actually the wife of Clinch (Liam Neeson), one of the baddest outlaws in the West who hasn't arrived in town just yet.
As an amusing diversion, the story tosses in Albert's best friend Edward (Giovanni), a virginal Christian waiting to have sex with his girlfriend, Ruth (Sarah Silverman), who just so happens to be one of the town's prostitutes who is having sex with 10-12 guys a day and whose repeated references to anal sex would have probably been funny if they weren't repeated so often.
It should come as no surprise that the entire film is leading up to a showdown between Albert and Clinch, a showdown that is about as climactic as my last time having sex.
In case you're wondering, that's not a good thing.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is an awkwardly paced, overly long, and wildly uneven film with a few jokes that do work surrounded by far more jokes that land with an almost deafening thud. There are those films that don't work and you think to yourself "Well, bummer!" as you leave the theater. Then, there are those films that are so bad that you leave the theater more irritated than when you went in.
The Joel McNeely original score? Irritating.
Seth MacFarlane? Beyond Irritating.
Randomly inserted and completely irrelevant racist humor? Don't get me started.
The sad thing here is that there's a seed of a good film planted here. Once again, if MacFarlane had gotten out of his own way and let go of his "Hey Mon, how many jobs you got?" approach to filmmaking, then A Million Ways to Die in the West could have been a decent film.
Charlize Theron? While she's certainly not knocking on Oscar's door here, her performance here is warm, funny, and endearing and, quite basically, everything that MacFarlane's is not. Theron's Anna is so endearing that you can't help but hope early on that she dumps both Clinch and Albert and goes out to find her someone who gives her wrapped candies.
While Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman are saddled with repetitive humor, they make the most of it and are far more interesting as a couple than any of the other couples in the film.
Of course, I would watch Sarah Silverman ride anything anytime.
Liam Neeson? It's kind of weird that in what could be considered one of his laziest performances he still is far more invested and convincing than the film's lead.
There may very well be enough of the MacFarlane touch to please his most hardcore fans, though it's truly hard to fathom that anyone will consider this film to be on par with Ted.
It is, however, superior to Wild, Wild West.
If, as MacFarlane asserts, there are truly A Million Ways to Die in the West, I think we can now add watching this film to the list. While MacFarlane has proven once and for all he's no leading man, I've heard there's an opening for a Liam Neeson butt double.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic