Comedy westerns have a strong legacy through classics like Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”, “Support your Local Sheriff/Gunfighter” (with James Garner), “Paleface” and “Son of Paleface” (with Bob Hope and Jane Russell) all the way back to the brilliant “Destry Rides Again” (with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich). Unfortunately for each of these classics there’s the odd “Wild Wild West” to restore movie western Karma, and Seth Macfarlane’s follow on to “Ted” – “A Million Ways to Die in the West” – is on that other side of the scales.
Macfarlane aside (who really isn’t funny enough to take the leading role of the sheep farmer Albert) the rest of the cast is bordering on stellar featuring Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, Amanda Seyfried and the gorgeous Charlize Theron. And they work very hard at it: Theron occasionally laughs like a hyena (to cover the fact that normally we are not) and Neeson plays the straight man villain very straight indeed.
So let’s accentuate the positive for a moment. The photography of the Utah locations is gorgeous. Joel McNeely’s western score is sumptuous (gotta love a western soundtrack) and the songs (including the moustache song and the title song) are both catchy and suitably ridiculous.
And there are moments in this film that are genuinely funny: Sarah Silverman’s Christian hooker with a heart who is “saving herself” for her husband-to-be, played by the excellent Giovanni Ribisi (Frank Buffay Jnr in “Friends”), while servicing 10 of the locals (“on a slow day”);
shooting practice with plates and a doctor’s blue woodpecker for the aftermath; the Navajo translation for “fine” being “Mila Kunis” and – most surreal of all – Albert’s drugged up trip with moustache wearing dancing sheep.
There are also some amusing cameos, particularly one in a barn (don’t watch some of the trailers – the one embedded below is OK – if you want that one to stay a surprise).
But the bits that did make me really laugh were few and far between. A lot of the jokes fall face first into the dry Utah dust with the humour similar to Albert’s aim: scattergun. The script stoops to swearing at every opportunity (because that’s always funny isn’t it?) and whilst toilet humour can work in moderation you need to know when to stop and when to leave something to the imagination. I’d like to suggest that this was a self-written, self-directed over-indulgent piece by Macfarlane, given carte blanche to indulge, and over-indulge, by studio execs after the runaway success of “Ted” – – but he did have co-writers who could and should have balanced his content more (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild – I haven’t actually checked that these don’t make an anagram of Seth Macfarlane).
Comedy needs to have good material across the whole running time, which means the films need to be tautened until the material ’twangs’ along its whole length. This was not one of those films.
Fad Rating: FF.
Note: this is the Red Band trailer: