Published May 30, 2014Lowly sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) just wasn't made for Arizona frontier life in 1882. Faced with a disappointing flock that barely keeps him afloat, an ex-girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) who's taken up with a cretin who makes a good living off his moustache (Neil Patrick Harris) and the lingering threats that await around every corner in the harsh surroundings, he's about ready to pack up and move to San Francisco. Until, that is, he saves the beautiful and mysterious Anna (Charlize Theron) in a saloon brawl one night.
She thinks him a hero. "I'm not the hero," he assures her. "I'm the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero's shirt."
A Million Ways To Die In The West, Macfarlane's follow-up to the promising but uneven Ted, is a delightfully crass and surprisingly well-crafted Western comedy that crams a lot of laughs into two hours. With a talented cast that succeeds in getting the most out of every role, the film is sure to offend some with its crude and scatological jokes that frequently skirt the edges of good taste, but its best defense against detractors is that it's actually pretty damn funny.
Theron is perhaps the film's greatest asset, showcasing impressive comic chops that haven't been put to such good use by the Oscar winner since Arrested Development and a nice rapport with MacFarlane in the scenes they have together. Anna is actually the wife of the fearsome gun fighter Clinch (Liam Neeson) and even as she's preparing the reluctant Albert for a duel with his moustachioed rival to win the girl back, we can sense this is instead headed for a showdown between Albert and Clinch.
Meanwhile, a prominent subplot sees a poor sap (Giovanni Ribisi) stuck waiting for marriage to consummate the relationship with his prostitute girlfriend (a wonderfully raunchy Sarah Silverman). There's also a musical number, a chase scene, a host of amusing cameos and a dementedly surreal sequence in which Albert trips on some kind of holistic drug. The film may drag on a little long and have its share of gags that don't work, but it remains ambitious and inspired entertainment for most of its running time.
As the creator of an animation empire with Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, the Western genre proves here to be fertile ground for MacFarlane's comedic sensibilities. Stepping in front of the camera as well this time around, he acquits himself admirably in the lead role by showing at least enough range to sell the required dramatic and romantic moments alongside the dick and fart jokes.
It's impossible to watch the film and not to think of another great Western comedy, Blazing Saddles. When its director Mel Brooks was accused of vulgarity, his legendary retort would certainly apply to MacFarlane's work here: "My movies rise below vulgarity."