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A Million Laughs in “Million Ways to Die” (Film Review)




Review by John Delia

Taking his comedy show to the Arizona desert, Seth MacFarlane presents A Million Ways to Die in the West.  It’s a rollicking comedy that has more pratfalls than his previous film, even though Ted has a charm that cannot be duplicated.  That said however, MacFarlane pleases with his deadpan humor that never seems to get old.  He’s a master at creating a joke way before the punch line and it really works here.  

There’s actually a storyline and it’s a very familiar one, but never told in this way.  It’s the 1880’s in the western town of Old Stump. It’s here that Albert (MacFarlane), a sheep farmer, has been courting Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for a year now and they’ve been close, but not that close as far as intimacy goes.  Actually Louise has grown weary of their future so she takes up with the mustache king Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).  Down and out concerning his romantic future he and his best friend Ed (Giovanni Ribisi), who owns the shoe shop, try to find a way to rekindle the relationship.

Albert (MacFarlane) hides among his sheep

Albert (MacFarlane) hides among his sheep

Elsewhere the hardened gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson) with his gang that includes his wife Anna (Charlize Theron), has his mind set on a stagecoach robbery .  But first he must send Anna and Lewis (Evan Jones) to Old Stump to infiltrate the city.  There, during a wild saloon brawl, Albert saves Anna’s life.  Taken by the well mannered man who has her same attitude about the depressing and dangerous west, she offers him a suggestion on how he can make Louise jealous. Foy gets offended with Albert’s intentions and accepts a duel. When Clinch gets word from Lewis that there has been kissing involving Anna and Albert, talk of a gunfight starts to spread. For sure Old Stump will never be the same again.

Working with a comedy cowboy film can be extremely difficult, but Seth MacFarlane has everything under control.  The laughs keep coming from the opening right down to the credit scenes.  While most of his comedy comes from his stone faced line delivery, there are also plenty of sight gags to tickle your fancy.  Watching a trailer it revealed some of the gags, but when they appear in the film I still laughed along with the rest of the audience.

oy (Harris) and Albert (MacFarlane) in A Million Ways to Die in the West

oy (Harris) and Albert (MacFarlane) in A Million Ways to Die in the West

This is Seth MacFarlane’s first appearance in a movie other than as a voice actor (unless you count his appearance as Ziggy in Tooth Fairy).  From his performance here he needs to be in front of a live action camera more often.  He’s an amazing expressionless comedian and brings a lot of magnetism to the screen.  It’s hard not to laugh at the comic and I caught myself letting out a chuckle even before the punch line on several occasions.

His actors follow his leadership and give their best performances making most scenes hilarious.  Umm, did Sarah Silverman just say that? Filled with a ton of sexual jokes and innuendos, you’ll find Silverman’s character Ruth the butt of most of them. She plays a dance hall prostitute that enjoys her job.  She’s devoted to her sweetheart Ed (Ribisi) and tells him all about her new experiences in bed.  Not holding back on any of the language and visuals of her reactions to the pleasures her performance is priceless.

Anna (Theron) sits with Foy (Harris) and Louise (Seyfried) at a hoedown

Anna (Theron) sits with Foy (Harris) and Louise (Seyfried) at a hoedown

Giovanni Ribisi does his best to hold back his own laughter and in one scene he has a visible grin showing how difficult it is to play deadpan around MacFarlane. His Ed character tends to be very shy, so when Ruth tells him her day giving pleasure, he accepts the fact that it’s only a job.  But when it comes time for him to want a little cuddling, Ruth objects because after all they are Christians and she’s saving herself for the wedding night.

As for Charlize Theron, the gorgeous actress has had limited chances at comedy, but here she looks like a pro delivering some of the best lines of the film.  A few tongue-in-cheek comedy scenes point out that she’s aware the film is all in fun, even if it makes her look like the center of the joke at times. Being the writer you can see MacFarlane set up several scenes where he has to kiss Anna and the screen kisses are plenty.  Lucky dog!

As for the rest of the cast, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris are mostly icing on the cake making their characters cardboard cut outs of the old west.  However, Harris has a few moments with his very funny scene in the moustache shop where he leads his clerks in a song and dance number.  And as the suitor to Louise, Harris turns up the heat a bit with a little smooching of his own.

Ruth (Silverman) and Ed (Ribisi)

Ruth (Silverman) and Ed (Ribisi)

A Million Ways to Die in the West has been rated R by the MPAA for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material.  The vulgar language is extensive and there are scenes of racial degradation so if you feel offended by either or both, you should reconsider attending the film (or you can wait until the credits start to roll for a cameo by Jamie Foxx who sets it straight).  Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have many scenes that are inappropriate for adolescents.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very funny look at the Wild West, Seth MacFarlane style (B+).  

Additional Film Information:

  • Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Wes Studi, Neil Patrick Harris and Evan Jones
  • Written, Produced and Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
  • Genre: Comedy, Action, Western
  • MPAA Rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material
  • Running Time: 1 hr 56 min
  • Release Date: May 30, 2014
  • Distributed by: Universal Pictures
  • Release Formats: 2D, Live Action


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