Seth MacFarlane has talent—there’s no arguing that regardless of personal comedic tastes. That is why a misfire from someone so talented is a bit shocking. A Million Ways to Die in the West is a parody of the western genre in the vein of Blazing Saddles. Instead of a refreshing send up, MacFarlane delivers a 116 minute episode of Family Guy, in the best and worst ways possible.
MacFarlane takes on the leading man mantle as Albert Stark, the cowardly town sheep farmer. Giovani Ribisi appears as the well-meaning, but equally cowardly, best friend. Sarah Silverman appears as Ribisi’s prostitute girlfriend. They struggle to remain chaste as Silverman provides copious details about servicing her clients. Charliez Theron stars as the hot gunslinger who teaches Albert to shoot, and nearly manages to help him win back the girl he lost. Neil Patrick Harris and Liam Neeson may tempt you into the theater. Resist. Neither spends more than twenty minutes on screen, and the talents of both are wasted. In fact, the A-list cast exists only to show that MacFarlane has enough good will in Hollywood to score A-list actors.
The plot is predictable, but serviceable for a parody. The real failure is in the jokes. A Million Ways… kicks off strong with a series of meta-jokes about the dangers and high level of suck permeating life in the old west. The jokes are amusing at first. Unfortunately, meta-jokes take up the first twenty minutes of film. The same meta joke. Even when the plot kicks in, the prime joke remains all the ways in which life sucks. Also present are MacFarlane’s patented cut-aways and in-jokes. At one point Harris says “Challenge Accepted!” in his best Barney Stinson voice. These asides and in-jokes don’t work half as well in film as on television. While there are a few laugh-out-loud funny jokes sprinkled in, MacFarlane drops the ball by mistaking vulgarity for wit.
The sad fact is A Million Ways to Die in the West is disappointing as a generic parody. As a Seth MacFarlane effort, it’s downright unforgivable. The movie looks pretty, but who goes to a comedy for the visuals? I can honestly say the movie isn’t offensive, but since when is Seth MacFarlane not offensive? At times, it’s confusing whether MacFarlane is making a parody or an actual western. Either could be true, but he manages to fail at both. If you are a die-hard fan of Seth MacFarlane, nothing I say will convince you to skip this flick and go with Blazing Saddles (the more timeless and effective alternative). To everyone else: Save your money.