A Million Ways To Die In The West

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Thanks to some extra afterschool lessons, my 6 year-old daughter has become somewhat of a maths whiz. From those tricky big-numbered multiplications to the pop-quiz style roll call of additions, she’s got it down pat. And I don’t think it’ll be too long either before she knows that dick joke plus cameo divided by pop culture reference – minus wit times by the power of fart gag equals Seth MacFarlane.

Though we usually only hear his voice as opposed to seeing his mug, MacFarlane is still an acquired taste. And much like, say, Jerry Seinfeld or William Shatner, if you don’t like his voice, shtick or disposition, you’ll unlikely find anything to like in his latest movie – a movie so Vain he probably thinks this review is about him. Don’t you? Don’t You?

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a show reel for TV-trained MacFarlane – there’s barely a scene he’s not in, there’s barely a moment he hasn’t written, there’s barely a composition he hasn’t scrawled himself, and there’s not a moment in it that he didn’t direct. It’s all MacFarlane, all the time.

Granted, the “Family Guy” creator has surrounded himself with some great supporting talent here – Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovani Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris – but by and large, the supports are sitting in the strong section behind MacFarlane’s big, doughty, showy trombone.

He plays Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer who has just lost his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) – a self-absorbed, “big-eyed” man-eater – to the hairy-lipped owner (Neil Patrick Harris) of a local moustachery.

While drowning his sorrows at the local bar, he runs into a beautiful but mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) and they quickly become pals.

‘Anna’ helps Albert summon up enough balls to challenge his ‘replacement’ to a duel, before taking him out for some shooting practice. Before too long, the twosome start to fall head over heels in love.

But little does Albert know, the woman is married – albeit, unhappily – to the most notorious and deadliest gun-slinger in the west, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).

And spliced into the love triangle yarn is a million (geddit?) jokes about different ways one can die in the west – from snake venom to falling ice, bar brawls and ferocious bulls, it’s pretty easy to make your maker here.

The guy behind TV’s The Griffins (he created and voices a bunch of characters on “Family Guy”) and cinema’s “Ted”  - who he also voiced – takes a cue from, well, Yahoo Serious (that dude owes me fifty bucks) and crafts a western comedy around his particular set of smarmy skills. And thanks to some of those famous friends, a hefty budget, and an efficient screenplay, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” leaves “Reckless Kelly” for dust.  And isn’t that what most films aim for these days…?

Exec  1 : We’re not exactly tracking so well…

Exec 2 : Doesn’t matter, according to these how-much-do-you-want-to-see-this chart, we’ve already surpassed “Reckless Kelly”!  Booyah!

Exec 1 : Are you… serious!?

Exec 2 : No, he is – Yahoo! And he’s just had his Reckless ass whipped by our movie!

Damn straight.

While the jury’s still out on whether MacFarlane will have a longer career in front of the camera than Serious, fact that he has a better idea of how to entertain an audience works in his favour. And the fact he’s gotten to bang the hot blonde chick from “Game of Thrones”, that stunner from “Twilight” (no, the other one – Ashley Greene), crazy Amanda Bynes, and former Slayer Eliza Dushku, suggests the guy isn’t without appeal or allure. His sack-success might also suggest he’s got some pull with the ladies, which should ease Universal’s worries that he’s not exactly your traditional leading man-type so mightn’t attract the sheilas to the movie.

But enough about the size of MacFarlane’s little Stewie, how’s the movie?

Well, It feels familiar – guess there’s a bit of “Blazing Saddles” in there, maybe even Dick Donner’s “Maverick” – but MacFarlane’s cooked up something mostly original here. It’s a parody that works because the gags are largely observational Wikipedia-true things. No doubt he’ll insult a few minorities by doing so (nothing new for MacFarlane), but some of the lines the filmmaker has in here about the life and times of – the dangerous and dreary – ‘Wild West’ work because, from what we know, they’re true.

And though one can’t argue that the movie might’ve worked best with an established actor in the lead (as opposed to the dude who voices Tim the Bear on “The Cleveland Show”), there’s no denying MacFarlane knows how to tell a joke like the best of ‘em. Some of his lines in this are gold. Paul Rudd or Seth Rogen may have worked better in the lead, but would they have been able to write as many effective funnies for themselves? Ponder that… while you scrub the ass of that saucepan tonight after dinner.

The more experienced thesps in the supporting cast all work well with the moonfaced comic, especially the beautiful Theron, who has some surprising chemistry with her goofy leading man. Their scenes together actually start to borderline on sweet, giving the comedy a much welcome realistic edge at times – or in the very least, a breather between the gags.

And there’s some terrific, very brief cameos – that we won’t spoil here but will say, one in particular will likely go down as a YouTube favourite for years to come. Kudos to MacFarlane for finding good use for each of the familiar faces he’s used.

At just under two hours, the film is a little too long, and there’s definitely just as many gags that miss as much as hit (already with the sex jokes dude, we get it – you know your way around a girls’ rump), but if you’re a fan of “Family Guy” or “Ted”, you’ll think your cinematic Powerball numbers have come up.

DVD : Fun commentary, amusing deleted scenes assemblage, and a featurette on the various locations used for the film.