Seth MacFarlane surprised a whole lot of people with the success of Ted. It instantly became one of those comedies that had people saying Ted quotes ad nauseam. Expectations could not be higher for his follow-up, A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane is clearly inspired by both Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) and John Ford (pick any one of his Westerns), and as such, he has crafted a comedy-western that is equal parts of both.
MacFarlane stars as a sheep farmer, Albert, in Arizona in 1862. Immediately we get the sense that this guy is completely out of place and he only enhances that fact by repeatedly talking about how awful life is for people like him during that time.
The title of the movie is expounded upon by the numerous forms of how souls perish -- as explained by Albert. And yes, we see many hilariously come to fruition!
Albert lives in a town that it seems if you are good with a gun, you’re set. His girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) doesn’t respect Albert due to his passive nature and ends up leaving him for the successful Moustachery owner (see the movie, you’ll get it) played by Neil Patrick Harris.
Lost and utterly depressed, he hides out in his house with his could care less parents. His friends (Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman -- who kills it as a whorehouse worker) try to comfort him to no avail.
Meanwhile, Charlize Theron’s Anna is trying to get away from her evil husband Clinch (Liam Neeson). He’s dressed in all back, from his hat to his boots, and we know immediately this guy is our villain. After a robbery, he sends Anna to a small town (Albert’s!) to hide out until he can come get her. It is there that she meets Albert and inspires him to stand up for himself. There might even be a spark of romance between the mismatched pair.
The thing about the film that is not seen in the A Million Ways to Die in the West trailer and other promotional materials, is that this is a movie that has a ton of humor, but is a true Western at heart. And not all the jokes are contained in the teasers.
MacFarlane also does not create one or two dimensional characters. Every single one of this ensemble cast gets to shine in their own way.
The relationship between Silverman and Ribisi’s characters -- although utterly raunchy due to her profession and his complete cluelessness as to how it should affect him -- is charming. Harris and Seyfried buck Western movie stereotypes and craft characters that are inherently unique.
Then, there’s the chemistry between Theron and MacFarlane. One might not expect that these two would sizzle, but this is a comedy after all, and it is through the laughs and mishaps they collectively experience that it is completely believable that these two characters could have an amorous future.
We have to point out, in our A Million Ways to Die in the West review, that the film runs out of gas in the funny department.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. MacFarlane has crafted a Western with a truly nasty villain in Neeson who has to be dealt with by our hero in the third act. So, it’s not unexpected that the film abandons its full throttle comic nature to resolve the tension that has been building.
The film is such a hybrid of action, humor and classic Western milieus, it has us seriously intrigued with how MacFarlane will follow up A Million Ways to Die in the West.