Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The biggest laugh, for me, in Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West" came early. Upon arriving home from a seemingly aimless day, sheep farmer Albert (MacFarlane) is questioned by his old codger father as to why he is getting back so late. I doubt their exchange won't get a good chortle from you.

There are a handful of truly good laughs - including an ongoing one involving photographs - during MacFarlane's latest picture, which satirizes the western genre a few decades too late. That being said, the writer/director throws jokes at the audience a mile a minute, hoping that some will stick - and only some of them do.

For a comedy, "Million Ways" is entirely too long. This is not an argument I use with virtually any other genre, but - let's be honest - most of the best comedies thrive on both their wit and brevity. Judd Apatow, in recent years, has introduced the epic comedy, of sorts, with running times over two hours and they occasionally pay off. In the case of MacFarlane's film, however, you begin to notice its length as it drags on. For instance, Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," which covers the same ground, but much better, clocks in at just over 90 minutes.

MacFarlane's picture is another in a long line of stories about a coward of the county who comes to find courage. At the beginning of the movie, he and his wife (Amanda Seyfried) are on the splits. She takes up with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the owner of a mustache grooming shop, while he takes to moping around with his virginal friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his pal's brothel-working girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman).

Albert's life is semi-revived upon meeting and befriending a tomboy named Anna (Charlize Theron), who helps restore his self confidence and has a suspiciously fine aim with a pistol. As it turns out - and unbeknownst to Albert - Anna is married to - but much against her will - a mean old nasty gunfighter named Clinch (Liam Neeson). During one of the film's funniest sequences, Anna gets a small bit of revenge on Clinch via a flower.

The thing is, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is amiable enough, just funny enough and just easygoing enough to assure that, at least, some of you will have a good time. It plays as a satire, but of movie cliches that were more prevalent at least 40 years ago. In other words, it's a little - or, perhaps even, a lot - too late. But it's not bad. I'd say - in terms of recent comedies - it's no better or worse than the slightly overrated "Neighbors." However, just because MacFarlane aimed to send up classic westerns, such as those by Sergio Leone, he didn't have to mimic those films' running times.

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