A Million Ways to Die in the West (15)

Let’s get something straight right now. If you’re not a fan of juvenile idiocy then you won’t like this movie.

It’s full of gags about farts, STDs and violent pooping. I loved it but then I’ve never been a fan of conventional humour. If it’s shocking and dirty then I’m in.

The year is 1882, the location is Arizona, and life is fraught with perils in the West. Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer, which isn’t the most glorious of jobs in this day and age.

Albert is a loveable-but-hapless loser who’s barely competent at maintaining his farm (one sheep has inexplicably ended up on his roof), much less a relationship with ladylove Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

When Stark is unceremoniously dumped by Louise for a moustachioed dandy (Neil Patrick Harris), he forms a friendship with the tough and feisty newcomer Anna (Charlize Theron).

Anna tries to help him woo Louise back, but ends up gradually falling for him. But it wouldn’t be a worthy Western without a twist. Unbeknownst to Albert, Anna happens is married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the most feared gunman in the West.

Could all this be fussing and fighting be leading up to a trademark Western-style stand-off between Clinch and our man Albert?

Albert’s devout christian friends Edward (Giovanni Ribis) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman), the latter of whom is also a prostitute, attempt to help him, but the cowardly sheep farmer comes to realise this is a fight he must take on by himself.

For all its hit-and-miss jokes, there are lots of ways to die laughing at this Western gross-fest.

MacFarlane threads the needle to make the material into something that causes you to crack a smile, and exhale a bemused chuckle, before he moves on to do it all again. My favourite moment was the square dance showdown between MacFarlane and Harris to ‘The Moustache Song’, which I assure you will take up permanent residence in your cranium the instant you hear it – you have been forewarned.

Yes, it’s gross. Yes, it’s tasteless. But so is the rest of MacFarlane’s work. He always makes bold social observations in a disgusting yet humorous way.

To write, direct, produce and star in your own movie is a referred to in Hollywood as a quadruple threat. So has the highest-paid writer-producer in television history managed to overcome this threat whilst shouting profanity into the camera?

Unfortunately he hasn’t. The problem with the movie is that Seth MacFarlane (the director) has been tasked with making a leading man out of Seth MacFarlane (the actor). And while he’s a likable enough performer, you can never quite get past the inherent artifice that his mere presence conveys, as if he’s an ironic observer of the film’s events rather than a participant in them.

Fans of Ted’s aggressively scatter-shot misanthropy will enjoy MacFarlane’s mock-Western follow-up. But I don’t think that they will prefer this movie. Yes it’s funny, well the parts that haven’t suffered from overkill thanks to trailers, but it lacks the crassness of Ted. It feels a little too safe.

Seth MacFarlane has a real talent for Westerns. A bonus if you’re only in it for shits and giggles.

By Ruth Walker
★★★★☆

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