Movie westerns are nowhere near as popular as they once were. The western comedy is a narrower niche to mine for movie magic, but Seth MacFarlane went there for the follow-up to his smash-hit Ted. The result, A Million Ways to Die in the West is an R-rated comedy that makes the audience laugh.
Stepping in front of the camera in live-action, MacFarlane portrays “Albert Stark” a sheep farmer in the tiny town of Old Stump in 1882. He is supposed to shoot it out with another resident of the town but talks his way out of the confrontation. His girlfriend, the schoolmarm “Louise” (Amanda Seyfried) promptly dumps him. While she denies there is another man involved, she quickly takes up with the foppish “Foy” (Neil Patrick Harris), owner of the local moustachery.
Meanwhile, the most notorious killer in the territory, “Clinch Leatherwood” (Liam Neeson) and his gang are splitting up before they rob a stage. He orders his wife “Anna” (Charlize Theron) to go with one of his henchman to lay up in Old Stump to keep her out of harm’s way. She meets Albert and decides that she wants to help him. She will pretend to be his girlfriend at the county fair so that Louise will see them together and get jealous.
That doesn’t work as planned and things wind up with Albert set to face off with Foy in a week in a gunfight. Problem is, Albert can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a gun, but Anna sees no difficulty with this. She plans to teach him how to shoot. She’s also learning about herself from her friendship with Albert.
Comparing A Million Ways to Die in the West to Blazing Saddles is unfair. While Mel Brooks and Seth MacFarlane are both comic genius personified, what could be done 40 years ago cannot be done today. A Million Ways to Die in the West lacks the razor-sharp edge of comedy that Brooks achieved with his western masterpiece. But like I said, the comparison is unfair. Seth MacFarlane doesn’t have that broad depth of experience, yet. I think he will continue to improve. Based solely on its own merits, this is a successful western comedy.
A Million Ways to Die in the West has a lot of laughs, pays homage to a number of westerns along the way, takes full advantage of a talented company of actors and makes the 116 minute running time pass quickly. Charlize Theron continues to impress as she will stand out in any film, no matter how good the film itself is, while Neil Patrick Harris is a lot of fun to watch. Seth MacFarlane isn’t going to win any awards for his acting here, but he does his best. His best is definitely worth checking out.