Monday, June 16, 2014

A Million Ways to Die (of Laughter) in the West

Seth MacFarlane's sophomore effort is a laugh-a-minute romp despite a weak leading man.
 by Curtis Betz 

“The American West in 1882 is a terrible time and place”. This is the gloomy outlook of Albert Stark, the protagonist of A Million Ways to Die in the West. This film is the latest project of award winning actor, writer, director, and singer Seth MacFarlane. Based on MacFarlane’s novel of the same name, this movie follows Albert the cowardly sheep farmer, played by MacFarlane himself, as he learns to change his views on the West, his life, and himself.

The movie begins with Albert in the dusty street of Old Stump, Arizona, after being challenged to a shoot-out by a cow farmer over a grazing territory dispute. Albert, being both a coward and terrible with a gun, backs down from the violent activity. This act of timidity becomes the final straw for Albert’s long-time girlfriend Louise, played by Amanda Seyfried. Louise dumps Albert claiming she “needs time to work on herself” and begins dating Foy (played excellently by Neil Patrick Harris of “How I Met Your Mother”), the owner of the local moustache shop. After losing the love of his life, Albert loses all interest in Old Stump and packs his bags to move to San Francisco.

The night before the big move, his best friend Edward (played by Giovanni Ribisi, who also had a role in MacFarlane’s previous movie “Ted”) invites Albert to join him at the local saloon. That night at the bar, Albert meets the new girl in town Anna (South Africa’s own Charlize Theron). Albert and Anna begin to talk after he pulls her out of the bar during a bar fight.

Over the next few weeks, Albert and Anna begin to form a friendship and fall in love. Anna teaches Albert to shoot and gives him a new found confidence. Unfortunately, all of this falls apart when notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, portrayed by Oscar winning actor Liam Neeson, rides in to town. Not only is Clinch the most dangerous man in the territory, he is also Anna’s husband. To make matters worse, Clinch is looking to murder Albert for kissing his wife. Now, Albert has to find the courage to save himself and the woman that he loves.

This film is very typical of MacFarlane’s work. He takes a well-known genre, adds a sharp sprinkling of satire and glazes it all over with a big dose of crude humor. It brings something to the table that everyone can enjoy. Action and comedy dance side by side while the clever nods to history and pop culture that MacFarlane is well known for weave in and out. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will catch references to Back to the Future III, Django Unchained, and even a nod or two to MacFarlane’s most famous work, Family Guy.

Of course MacFarlane is well-known for his voice acting talents and his writing abilities, but his acting is below par and he fails to be a convincing lead. However, this is easily over looked with the brilliance of the Hollywood superstars that fill the screen. The talents of Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, and the hilarious performance of Neil Patrick Harris along with a brilliant cast of extras and minor characters make this movie genuinely funny and exciting at every turn.

Overall, this film is thoroughly enjoyable and comes highly recommended. It is a light, fun romp full of laughter and genuine heart. Although not a strong follow up to “Ted”, which is currently the highest grossing original R-rated comedy of all time, it is definitely worth watching. Whether you enjoy witty jokes, simple toilet humor, or just a good Western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West is definitely worth the price of admission.