Seth MacFarlane and his pop-culture referencing raunchy humor made Family Guy a smash success on the small screen for years. Back in 2012, MacFarlane finally decided to head to the big screen with his directorial debut, Ted. The R-rated comedy about a teddy bear that comes to life, only to end being a hard drinking, pot smoking bear years later was a smash success, taking in $549 million worldwide. Not too bad for a directorial debut. For his second outing, MacFarlane heads to the old west and ends up doing something extremely different with A Million Ways to Die in the West. Granted, MacFarlane's signature brand of humor is still in play: the film has a tonnage of jokes about sex, drugs and other bodily fluids. But the film's acidic wit and the way it so perfectly captures the spirit of classic westerns is what separates it from being just another raunchy comedy. A Million Ways to Die in the West has a heart, a dark sense of irony and humor and a great sense of fun that makes it a film not to miss.
Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer who really isn't good at his job. Not only that, but he's a bit of a coward who pretty much parodies the old west at all times. He thinks of the frontier in the late 1800's not as a place of joy and freedom, but as a place where your farts can kill you and the intelligence level of the people is that of a rat. After he backs down in a gunfight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him and he goes into a deep depression. That all changes when Anna (Charlize Theron), a mysterious new stranger, comes into town and instantly sweeps him off his feet. The two bond over their hatred of the old west and they end up becoming even closer after Albert challenges a local jerk (Neil Patrick Harris) to a fight which leads to Anna training him how to use a gun. However, trouble is brewing when a nefarious outlaw (Liam Neeson) comes into town and threatens the lives of everyone involved.
A Million Ways to Die in the West really could have ended up being just another R-rated comedy. With certain Family Guy episodes, MacFarlane has proved that he can do lowbrow, disgusting humor that has absolutely no emotional core and is simply raunchy for the sake of being raunchy. They just feature people puking, farting and pooping and seem to find that funny. And it can be funny, to a certain extent. However, after a while, it just becomes disgusting. A Million Ways to Die in the West falls into that trap one or two times but it never becomes too overwhelming. Sure, there are plenty of visual gags and some really disgusting humor comes into play at times, but MacFarlane only crosses the line every once in a while. For the most part, MacFarlane keeps A Million Ways funny, fresh and entertaining with an interesting love story at its core and the feel of an authentic western. MacFarlane's love for this material is really strong and you can tell that he had a strong desire to make this movie and to make it be a great one.
MacFarlane keeps the script strong and directs the film well, but he also did a great job with casting the right actors in the right roles, including the decision to cast himself as Albert. I can't really imagine anyone else anchoring this movie, since MacFarlane has such a clear vision for what he wants to do with it. His biting sense of humor comes through in his character and Albert ends up feeling like a modern-day man thrust into the west and I believe that's what MacFarlane intended.
It also helps that he has a superb cast of both hilarious comedians and esteemed actors to back him up. The supporting cast is truly stellar in this movie and most of them turn in great performances. Charlize Theron does a great job as Anna, one of the most interesting characters in the film. Theron's performance is funny, witty and she complements MacFarlane well. The two characters are similar and they fit together very well to create a love story that is believable, well executed and funny. Who would have guessed that the best love story of the year so far would come from Seth MacFarlane.
Although MacFarlane and Theron lead the film, they are helped out by Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and more. Harris plays Foy, a total jerk and the owner of a local mustache accessory shop. He ends up stealing almost every scene that he is in. His character has a great dance number, a funky accent and a swagger about him that amounts to a great performance by Harris. He really throws all his energy into this performance and it ends up being one of the highlights of the film. Silverman, Ribisi and Seyfried are all serviceable as characters who only show up every once in a while. Liam Neeson plays a tough-as-nails outlaw and ends up doing a decent job. He's not really stretching himself and he's honestly playing the kind of character that he would usually play, but he does a good job while he's at it.
What makes this movie great for me is MacFarlane's love for the subject material. He obviously loves the western genre and it shows. From the opening credits that are done in the style of a classic western from the 1950's to the great musical score by Joel McNeely to the great action setpieces at the end, MacFarlane pays homage to the western genre while also lampooning the crap out of it by pointing out all the ridiculously idiotic things that happened during that time. The film feels like a true passion project for MacFarlane and not just another job. It's the tone and the design of the film that make it special.
Like any good episode of Family Guy, A Million Ways to Die in the West is filled with great gags and an ironic sense of humor that often pays off, but sometimes goes a little too far. This film only does it once or twice, but the times that MacFarlane crosses the line are pretty glaring. For example, a scene with Neil Patrick Harris will have you laughing for about a minute, but once the scene keeps going, you'll start to be disgusted. It's little things like that that can sometimes take away from an otherwise well-crafted film.
If you're looking for a raunchy, R-rated comedy that has some substance to go with it, you can't go wrong with A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane's irreverent sense of humor translates well to this film and the film is pretty hilarious throughout (there are also a few great cameos, which I will talk about in an article after the film comes out). However, deep down inside, there's a heartfelt love story and a love for the western genre that makes A Million Ways to Die in the West really stand out.
THE FINAL GRADE: A- (8.1/10)