2 June 2014

Review: A Million Ways To Die In the West

(Dir: Seth MacFarlane, 2014)

Comedy is the most difficult genre to be critical about because, quite frankly, what makes one person burst into fits of laughter might barely elicit a mild upturn of the mouth from someone else. Hence exiting the cinema after A Million Ways To Die In the West and the inevitable “what did you think?” question gets circulated, I found myself in the minority by saying, “not the best”. I might otherwise have said “meh” – hardly the most eloquent or incisive of critical thoughts, but it’s a film I struggled to feel much about. In fact I might have otherwise forgotten most of it already if it weren’t for a desire to put something down on paper, so to speak. On the plus side it’s a stream of gags, both visual and verbal, so there’s plenty going on, but this barrage of jokes is much like the shooting ability of Seth MacFarlane’s Albert in the film – the target rarely gets hit. The sight gags tend to work better and there are the occasional quality one-liners, but you have to trudge through a literal upturned hat of shit to get to them. Maybe it’s just the dumbness of scatological humour that I’ve never been a fan of, or the tiresomeness of the uninspired sexual jokes, or too much of this irritating IF I SHOUT IT THEN IT’S AUTOMATICALLY FUNNY modern approach to comedy.

It’s not just those things though. MacFarlane seems thoroughly out of place in a western – everything about his clean Hollywoodised look, his voice and his presence screams “I do not belong here!”, which is obviously jarring. Plus he’s not exactly the greatest actor. Sure his voiceover work is pretty superlative, but in the flesh I’m not convinced. In fact the only actor who really seems to make sense is Liam Neeson – a man whose ruggedness perfectly aligns him to play a badass, outlaw gunslinger in the wild west. Yet his character seems to operate almost entirely away from the comedic side of the film making it frequently appear as if he’s wandered in off a neighbouring set. There was a trailer for A Million Ways To Die In the West that was introduced by MacFarlane and his character Ted, which included the quality line “Does Liam Neeson even known he’s in this?”, which rings strangely true. None of the other characters stand out apart from perhaps Charlize Theron’s Anna, who on the one hand seems lovely but on the other can’t shed her modern edge. But then neither can the film as a whole, which rather than seeming incidental ends up overshadowing as it sits awkwardly.

Aligning the film to MacFarlane’s Ted was an undoubtedly wise marketing decision, even if the film hasn’t had a great opening weekend, yet modern audiences don’t seem to care about westerns so there’s always that struggle. Ted is the vastly superior film thanks to the novelty factor of a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear and it's relationship with Mark Whalberg, whilst A Million Ways To Die In the West isn’t able to offer anything equivalent. Well, maybe it does – it features one of the best cameos I’ve seen in any film ever (saying which would be unfair). But that aside, if tiresome, dumbed-down humour in an excessively long package is your thing, you’re in for a treat. Sure I laughed a bunch of times, but never in that substantive way that ripples through you uncontrollably, making your face ache and head pound. It’s not that type of film. “Meh” still feels about right.

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