A broad modern gross-out comedy that plays intelligently with the cinematic heritage of the western genre, A Million Ways To Die In The West delivers a light, entertaining and ultimately enjoyable experience.
The film opens with Seth MacFarlane being dumped by the doe-eyed, and sickeningly vacuous, Amanda Seyfried. He then spends the rest of the movie trying to win her back in a boy-loses-girl-boy-meets-new-and-far-better-girl-boy-kisses-new-girl-only-to-discover-she’s-married-to-the-most-viscous-outlaw-in-the-West-and-has-to-face-him-in-a-gun-fight. A classic tale.
Maintaining its position precariously just above the level of farce, moving from hand-over-your-mouth gross-out to more classic laugh-out-loud slapstick (perhaps including one too many ‘comedy’ falls), by way of charming homage and unexpected cameo appearances; it’s just a bit of good old-fashioned honest and silly fun.
And it’s no surprise with MacFarlane (the guy who brought us that thing with the Ted-dy bear and Family Guy) at the helm; having written and directed the film he obviously felt he might as well cast himself in the lead role too. Although possibly overkill, and arguably ego-maniacal, he does a good job as Albert, a bumbling coward and self-confessed hopeless sheep wrangler, delivering his own gags and goofs with enough charm to invest you in his story.
Enter Charlize Theron, looking every part the leading lady, as outlaw’s wife and posse member Anna. It’s clearly not her first rodeo and, whilst having a distinct aroma of Sharon Stone from The Quick and the Dead, she manages to strike a good balance between slick bad-ass gunslinger and damaged damsel in distress to make her a workable character and alchemical companion for MacFarlane. Liam Neeson makes a good fist of Clinch Leatherwood (The Man with No Name rolls in his grave), clearly enjoying playing against type as the despicably cut-throat estranged husband of Theron.
Mentions too for decent performances from the always likeable and intrinsically funny-boned Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi, who play a bizarre couple of premarital god-fearing ‘virgins’ where only 50% of the relationship are actually that. They act as comic relief from what is already a funny film, so feel a bit overkill or secondary but form a part of the camaraderie that is essential to the success of this brand of American sillyness.
Sometimes it’s nice to watch a film that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. A Million Ways To Die In The West is just that film and plays knowingly and effectively within its comfortably self-set boundaries. And it might even make you laugh a bit.