Genre: Comedy, Western
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson
As anyone who has seen A Fistful Of Dollars will attest to, the coffin industry was a fairly lucrative one in the Wild West. Those who managed to fend off the relentless amounts of disease, reptiles and poverty found themselves at the mercy of the gunslingers and Native Americans that roamed the land. Admirably, Seth MacFarlane’s grand idea for the follow-up to his smash-hit Ted is to draw comedy from these revisionist themes, implanting them within a Western-set comedy that’s enamoured with the golden hues of a John Wayne classic. What he achieves however, is a film built on half-baked ideas and a monotonous onslaught of crude humour.
Blending Michael Barrett’s sweeping shots of Monument Valley with Joel McNeely’s triumphant orchestral score during the opening credits, the film undeniably captures the scenic look and feel of the genre. It’s here that we meet MacFarlane’s cowardly sheep farmer Albert who, having just been dumped by the love of his life because of his lack of valour, plans to leave the West in order to start a new life in San Francisco. However, the arrival of a beautiful gunslinger and her murderous husband causes Albert to finally harness the courage and determination lurking within him.
While his intentions may be courageous, it becomes clear all too quickly just how much of a misfire MacFarlane’s sophomore film is. While Ted’s original concept allowed it to maintain an air of freshness against the florid torrent of adolescent humour, A Million Ways To Die constantly buckles under its own wanton desire to repetitively tell the same joke in a different way. Though on the surface it may seem obvious to liken itto Blazing Saddles, the comparison feels fairly redundant. Whereas Mel Brook’s much-loved classic was an unapologetic spoof of the western genre, MacFarlane’s film is closer in tone to the gross-out crowd-pleasers regularly found towards the top of the Box-Office.
You could almost try to forgive the fact that the plot is a disjointed mess, which serves mainly as a loaded gun to repetitively fire jokes from, if it wasn’t for the fact that MacFarlane demands you invest so much time in it. Mind-numbingly stretched out over a 2-hour running time, the disengaging material continuously staggers from attempted genre pastiche, to lewd comedy, to generic rom-com; the last of these, which sees Albert fall head-over-heels for the wife of a local bandit, being both the biggest and the most uninteresting.
Some of the jokes manage to muster more than just a smile. MacFarlane undeniably has some great ideas here, particularly in his attempts to lampoon different elements of the genre his film is rooted within. The problem is he never has the poise, or perhaps the interest, to try and develop the more observant gags, regularly dispensing with these intelligent flourishes, in favour of yet another dick joke.
It’s a problem that extends to his cast, who are wasted on the whole. Although Giovanni Ribisi manages to make the most of an underwritten role (one of many), other assured talents, such as Neil Patrick Harris & Sarah Silverman, are reduced to juvenilely repugnant jokes that encapsulate various bodily fluids. Indeed, the only member of the cast to walk way with their dignity intact is the ever-brilliant Charlize Theron; her sexy swagger, ballsy personality and flair for comedic timing effortlessly enlivened the film, even in its dreariest moments.
The inescapable main issue though is with MacFarlane himself. Though his talents as both a writer and performer have yielded a host of brilliant shows and a delightful debut film, here his self-indulgence, which extends to the casting of himself in the lead role, has well and truly got the better of him. When you’re resorting to jokes that involve sheep penises and repetitively flagrant cursing, it’s time to start thinking of a fresh idea.