A Million Ways To Die In The West
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried
116 mins; Class 15; KRS

The multi-talented Seth MacFarlane can boast a consistent career in television, music, literature and more since the early 1990s. He made his name with smash adult animated TV comedies Family Guy and American Dad, cult classics which boast zany, lewd and subversive humour which captured the imagination of audiences around the world.

MacFarlane’s first venture onto the big screen came courtesy of Ted, a 2012 comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and a teddy bear that comes to life and boasts MacFarlane’s voice apart from his writing and directing duties. With the same brand of envelope-pushing humour that has characterised his output to date, Ted was a smash hit both critically and commercially.

MacFarlane stars in, writes, produces and directs in his latest big-screen venture A Million Ways to Die in the West as Albert Stark, a sheep farmer in 1882 Arizona who, the opening narrator informs us, was born in the wrong time and place. This much is clear – Albert hates his job and is terrible at it. He loathes the fact he lives on the frontier because people are always dying, and in the opening scenes we find him trying to finagle his way out of a gunfight because he has no idea how to shoot a gun.

Feeling completely hapless, his day gets worse when the love of his life Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him only to start dating the smarmy Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Albert strikes up a friendship with a mysterious new woman in town, Anna (Charlize Theron), with whose encouragement he takes the necessary steps to win back Louise’s affections.

The stage is set for a spoof of the Western genre, yet as the story unfolds and the comedy falls into the old traps, the realis-ation sets in that MacFarlane may have bitten off a little more than he could chew.

It starts off very well, kicking off with the rather nostalgic and old-fashioned opening credits with their classic Hollywood Western-type fonts and twangy music played against a typical golden mountainous backdrop. In fact, MacFarlane’s production team has really succeeded in recreating the look and feel of the Far West; yet the incongruity that Albert doesn’t belong is never quite developed.

A squanderedopportunity onmany counts

This is less a fish-out-of-water story than the attempt to present an old-fashioned Western with a contemporary sensibility. Good idea, indeed, but the lazy writing resorts to tiresome clichés, thinly-sketched characters, gags that for the most part miss their mark, sloppy narrative and a script in which most lines feature the F-word and derivatives thereof. So that’s MacFarlane’s bad language box ticked.

The sexual innuendo and toilet humour boxes are ticked to exhaustion. Among the joys we have to deal with are the consequences of Foy being secretly given laxatives, and the sight of a sheep peeing all over Albert.

It is a squandered opportunity on many counts. MacFarlane makes a decent leading man and he shares genuine chemistry and some lovely moments with Theron, who tackles her role with gusto, but the rest of the cast just flounder in scenes that add little to the narrative.

Seyfried and Harris are completely wasted; Giovanni Ribisi appears as the town’s nebbish cobbler who is engaged to Ruth (Sarah Silverman), the local brothel’s best whore – the set-up, execution and punch line of their storyline being that she refuses to sleep with him until they are married; while Liam Neeson really needs to get his teeth into a decent role because what he has here is nothing more than an extended cameo which culminates in a rather ignominious scene.

‘A dozen ways to laugh in the West’ would have been enough to make this bearable. As it is, it is a rehash of the kind of puerility we’ve seen a million times before, and it does not get funnier with repeated viewing.