Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: "A Million Ways to Die in the West"

Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron & Liam Neeson
Director Seth MacFarlane's sophomore feature (following the hilarious and heartfelt Ted) is the deliberately anachronistic Comedy Western, A Million Ways to Die in the West. To be perfectly honest, while it's not as good as Ted (it's missing much of that movie's good-naturedness) it does have much more than a few very, VERY funny moments and visuals. Peppered with the kind of trademark non-sequiturs and throwaway jokes MacFarlane uses on his animated series "Family Guy," A Million Ways... never wastes any opportunity to gross us out, make us squeal in discomfort or belly-laugh at something outrageous. 

MacFarlane is Albert, a dirt poor, bad sheep farmer (his sheep have a tendency to wander any and everywhere) whose girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him after he talks his way out of a gun fight with a neighbor by offering a cash settlement. His best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) is in love with foul-mouthed prostitute Ruth (Sarah Silverman) but they can offer no consolation when Louise takes up with wealthy owner of the Moustachery,  Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Meanwhile, outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson) sends his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) with one of his boys to pose as brother and sister in the Arizona town where Albert lives, while he hides out after murdering a prospector. A ridiculous barfight (started by Anna's 'brother') eventually leads to friendship and romance between Albert and Anna. 

There isn't much new, plot-wise in A Million Ways... We all know how it's going to end as soon as Anna and Albert meet. And while the modern dialogue (complete with 21st Century teen slang) is a bit jarring at first and the cartoon violence always ends in horrific deaths and/or mutilations, they somehow manage to work together, despite every indication that they shouldn't. There are plenty of racist jokes (the shooting gallery at the county fair is called "Shoot the Runaway Slave" and a scene involving Cochise is loaded with 'Indian' gibberish)  and nonsense (ingredients in a 'health tonic' include mercury and red flannel, while the sight of a dollar bill has the townsfolk 'oohing' in reverence) and a ton of very funny, quick and mostly uncredited cameos (think Jane Weidlin in Clue), the funniest of which involves a beloved character actor recreating his most iconic movie role for yet another anachronistic gag. My three companions (M, Dear D and Stephanie) all laughed a lot (often missing bits of dialog because of it), though D was a bit put off by Silverman's very explicit descriptions of her work day. The performances are all fine and MacFarlane uses his adorableness to it's fullest extent. D also thought Theron wasn't interested or interesting for the first half of her performance, but I think that was a deliberate choice. Oh - and there's a big musical number about... mustaches! And an obviously Salvador Dali-inspired hallucination scene that is pure genius!

Interestingly, while I was undoubtedly the oldest among my companions, we were collectively among the youngest members of the matinee audience. And surprisingly, the older folks seemed to enjoy it almost as much as we did. I expected at least two or three couples to walk out, but none of them did so, though I heard an older man behind us make two funny remarks. The first was "This is the craziest movie I ever saw!" and the second was "Whose idea was it to see this, again?" I'm guessing he's never seen The Forbidden Zone. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that all of the nonsense is made so much funnier by Joel McNeely's dead-on, sweeping Western score.

If you are a fan of MacFarlane's other works (I definitely am), you will most certainly enjoy A Million Ways to Die in the West. If outrageous, gross-out, nonsense comedy isn't your thing, you probably won't. *** (Three Out of Four Stars). Rated 'R for "strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material." The Red-Band trailer below is definitely NSFW and features several clips that do not actually appear in the movie (I HATE that!).

More, anon. 

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