I bet Seth McFarlane would love to fancy himself this generation’s Bob Hope, or perhaps even Mel Brooks. With the hollow smile of a car salesman, and the appeal of a commercial pitch man, in reality, McFarlane comes off as just another really desperate fan boy whose love for music, dancing, and comedy doesn’t equate to entertainment. The end result is a movie that holds our hands through every joke, and then holds our hand through the expected reaction. I imagine if McFarlane directed a remake to “Blazing Saddles” eventually someone would point to Sheriff Bart, look at the audience breaking the fourth wall, and mutter “But he’s a black man! And this is the old west!”
You can pretty much see Exhibit A in the trailers where McFarlane and Ribisi’s characters are watching Ice being delivered. When it crash lands on a man’s head killing him, he screams “That went South so fast!” Thanks for letting us know how to react to the brutal yet comical accident. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” watches like McFarlane was sitting in on a writer’s meeting for “Family Guy” and liked one of their scripts so much, he took it home and tailored it for a feature film vanity project. I’m still not sure what McFarlane is going for with his starring role. Is his character Albert a fish out of water in a time he’s just not fit for, or is McFarlane playing McFarlane stuck in the old west? If the former, how and why would Albert be so self-aware? Why does Albert have knowledge of concepts and ideas four decades before his time?
Why is Albert so painfully conscious of his time period? What’s the actual punch line in that? Yes, the old west was a dangerous time. Yes, the mortality rate was high. Do we really need a five minute rant about it? The truth is that there are seeds for really funny jokes. It’s just that McFarlane, true to form, doesn’t know when to let it go and allow the weight of the jokes to land on their own. Take for example the joke about not smiling in pictures in the old west, which starts out kind of funny, but McFarlane drives it in to the ground by the end of the film. In one scene, Albert describes how miners eat ribs with hot sauce because their senses are numb from poison gases, and declares “They literally die from their own farts!”
A second later, we see a miner keel over and die after unleashing a loud fart. McFarlane has no confidence in the intelligence of his audience (he can’t even be bothered to garner a stubble or beard for the role set in the old west), so he emphasizes a joke and sight gag at least three times before moving on to something that could potentially be funny. How many times do we have to emphasize the graphic nature of Sarah Silverman’s job as a prostitute before McFarlane realizes it just isn’t funny? Star McFarlane peppers the movie with an impressive supporting cast, all of whom is either glorified props, or meant to make McFarlane seem funnier.
Giovanni Ribisi, and Neil Patrick Harris both known to draw a laugh or two, but are merely there to react to one liners by McFarlane. Meanwhile Liam Neeson’s role is a glorified walk on. Charlize Theron does pull off a great performance pretending to find McFarlane’s character funny, charming, and appealing. That said, there are a few moments that made me chuckle aloud. The interplay between Albert and his cranky old parents was a great running joke, and how the town marveled at the sight of an actual dollar was very funny. Despite the few glaring moments of wit, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a comedy that desperately wants to emulate Mel Brooks, but fails in every respect. It’s unfunny, overlong, and proves McFarlane is perhaps better off voicing sentient Teddy Bears.