Sunday, June 1, 2014
Movie Review: "A Million Ways To Die In The West" (2014)
I don't care for Seth MacFarlane at all. While I do believe the first three seasons of "Family Guy" were well-made and consistently funny with clever character writing, MacFarlane has decided to drop that style of comedy and instead go for something along the lines of "South Park" by insulting whoever is popular with cutaway gags that have nothing to do with the show.
Like "South Park," I decided to keep watching "Family Guy" long after it stopped being funny. But unlike "South Park," which just became insulting and disrespectful, "Family Guy" got repetitive and relied way too much on cutaway gags and turning its diverse cast into caricatures of their former selves. Which is why I stopped watching the show around season seven in 2009.
Since that point, MacFarlane has created several new shows that try desperately to do the exact same thing as "Family Guy" by taking character tropes and making them as obscene as possible and going overboard in the process. This would include shows like "The Cleveland Show" and "Dads" as well as the movie "Ted."
However, the one bright spot in all of this is that MacFarlane has relapsed into his older self, especially with his other animated show "American Dad." In that show, MacFarlane can actually have characters be themselves without coming off like clichés or stereotypes. Essentially, he is recapturing the comedy of the first three seasons of "Family Guy" and showing that he still has what it takes to be funny, instead of obscene.
MacFarlane's latest comedy, "A Million Ways To Die In The West," finds a way to reach a middle ground where it is sometimes fresh, while other times is a rehash of his other work, leaving an overall feeling indifference.
Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer in the old Arizona west, around 1882, and is a complete coward who is quick to point out how much this time period sucks and that everyone and everything is trying to kill you. This attitude becomes grating on his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried) and breaks up with him to get together with the local mustache guru (Neil Patrick Harris).
But when a new family rolls into town, the sister, Anna (Charlize Theron) takes a liking to Albert and teaches him a few things about how to shot a gun. This surprises everyone in town, but not as much as when the most vicious gunslinger in the territory, Clutch Leatherwood (Liam Nesson), comes to town to look for his wife.
The biggest complaint against this film is that it does not try to be funny as much as it should. Oh, there is plenty of comedy, but there are also many scenes where there are two people will talk normally and have a rather rational conversation. This is then broken up by Albert and Anna talking about how black people like women with huge rear ends.
There is no sense of continuity in this film, and as a result the pacing is all over the place. Sometimes the jokes will come hard and fast, like when Albert has his life flash before his eyes or talks about how the west is terrible, while other jokes take their sweet time to pan out, such as when they are at the town fair or Albert and Anna share a pot cookie.
You are often left wondering if you were supposed to laugh at that scene or not and whether it had a point to it at all.
In a similar film, like "Blazing Saddles," another comedy about the old west, that film takes every opportunity to cram a joke in there. The film never slows down to give the characters depth, because their jokes become their character.
But here, the characters are nothing new. We've seen people like Albert, Anna, Louise and Clutch a million times in other movies before this. The coward who has to step up for himself. The shallow girl who wants to be with the popular guy. The skilled bully who thinks he is the best around and wants to prove it to everyone.
So when there are so many scenes devoted to fleshing these overdone characters out, it just puts the audience to sleep rather than being dramatic. They merely serve as a distraction from the comedy.
That being said, there are plenty of worthwhile jokes throughout the film. Like I said, when the comedy comes at you fast, it usually hits the mark. When Albert describes why the west is so bad, there are many gags of people dying right before their eyes, including a guy dying of his own farts and face-planting right onto a poker table.
But the best one has to be the body of the mayor just lying in the street, with no explanation of why it is there, but no one doing anything about it. This is made even better by MacFarlane's over the top reaction, realizing that the leader of this town is a corpse, and having his body get dragged away by hungry wolves.
These jokes prove that there is a worthwhile sense of humor out there, but that the film keeps getting bogged down in other distracting details, like an unnoteworthy story about cliché characters. When the film wants to be funny, it can be hilarious. When it tries to do anything else, it drops the ball.
If you like "Family Guy," "Ted" or any other work by Seth MacFarlane, then you'll enjoy "A Million Ways To Die In The West." You will know what to expect from MacFarlane by now, and this is more of the same.
Final Grade: C