A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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I think Seth MacFarlane is one of the more divisive figures in the comedy industry right now – some people find him dreadfully unfunny and tasteless, and others think he is a comedy genius. I fall into the latter category – I may not love everything he does, but I do know that there has been several times when he has just hit the right notes, and when he does, it is a pure comedy history being made. His film, Ted, became of the most acclaimed comedies of recent years, and his TV work has made him one of the most successful figures in comedy, and beloved by a large group of fans. His most recent film effort is one of MacFarlane’s more divided works. He made a bold choice by making a western – a genre that hasn’t been relevant for almost fifty years. It is a very hit-and-miss film, and there was no way it was going to please everyone.

First of all, this doesn’t seem like a typical comedy with big names – sure, the cast is filled with stars, but it never feels like a generic Hollywood comedy with trailers and on-set tension. It feels like a bunch of friends got together and made a movie together. That gives it a much more loose atmosphere. Also, it is very clear none of these actors wanted to be taken seriously in this film – they just wanted to have fun and be silly. This was the aspect of the film which I found very admirable. MacFarlane clearly didn’t want to make it a serious film, and instead wrote something fun.

However, there were a lot of problems as well with the film. The main one is the cliched third-act tension. The first two-thirds of the film were packed with hilarious sight gags and a very clever deconstruction of the western genre. Then the third act comes along, and there is too much going on. The villain of this film wasn’t close to being sufficient – he appeared at the beginning of the film, then disappeared and returned in the third act. I understand having a malicious villain is a staple of cowboy movies, but Liam Neeson’s character was so underdeveloped, it bordered on unneccesary. Neil Patrick Harris, who is such a talented performer, played a character much more despicable than Neeson, and I would have preferred he took a much darker turn and became the main villain of the film.

The entire story could have just shifted the attention to the other peripheral characters instead of concentrating on Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson, who are both really talented, but are second best to the supporting roles in this film, such as Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi and Harris, who I found much more interesting and wish their stories were more developed instead of having the focus shifted to the big movie stars. I feel that MacFarlane chose to highlight Theron and Neeson particularly because they were the big movie stars doing a silly comedy in strange costumes. Its a shame, because while it was refreshing to see these usually dramatic performers doing something light, it wasn’t the revelation MacFarlane thought it would be, and it ended up simply being amusing instead of hilarious.

I found A Million Ways to Die in the West very funny – there were some really fun cameos scattered throughout the film, and the whole idea of MacFarlane taking on a western made this a very worthwhile experience. I really like his warped sense of humor and the moxie he has when he commits to a joke that is pretty much unbelievably offensive. Its his love for pushing the envelope that made MacFarlane the comedy mogul he is today, and as long as he is continuing to give valuable additions to the worlds of animation and comedy (including a long-awaited reboot of The Flintstones) – so we can forgive him for trying something new like A Million Ways to Die in the West, which may not be the success it could have been, but was still incredibly entertaining.

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