After watching hundreds of “Family Guy” episodes, it’s easy to spot Seth MacFarlane’s fingerprints all over “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” A comic homage to classic Westerns of the 1950’s and 60’s, MacFarlane’s film features great music, interesting characters, and a talented cast. Unfortunately, the big laughs are too few and far between.
MacFarlane writes, directs, and stars as Albert, a well-spoken but cowardly sheep farmer in the town of Old Stump. Albert desperately loves Louise (Amanda Seyfried), but she starts keeping company with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the arrogant owner of the Mustachery. Albert would do just about anything to win her back.
Anna (Charlize Theron), a new lady in town, takes a real interest in Albert, but she also is the wife of notorious gunslinger Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). Completely incompetent when handling a firearm, the sheep farmer has to face Clinch in the town square to settle things.
Graphic and somewhat disturbing, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has an interesting premise which falls far short of expectations. In his television shows, MacFarlane makes wry observations about modern life, and he incorporates this same technique into his filmmaking. Albert’s monologue on the Old West is especially moving and quite brilliant.
The graphic ways that Old Stump residents meet their respective makers is the big draw, however. Though teaser trailers hint at some of the deaths, nothing compares to what’s actually in the final cut. Suffice it to say, a dead body lying in Old Stump’s town square for three days is the tamest demise shown.
MacFarlane has sweet chemistry with Charlize Theron’s Anna. Used to rough men and even rougher living, Albert’s kindness is a welcome change. Giovanni Ribisi also has great moments as Albert’s best buddy Edward. The two friends even work out a strategy to survive the inevitable barroom brawl.
Arguably, the music in “A Million Ways to Die in the West” provides the most consistent enjoyment. Composer Joel McNeely provides a beautiful opening song and helped write the film’s theme, “A Million Ways to Die.” MacFarlane even incorporated “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache,” an 1864 song written by Stephen Foster, into the soundtrack.
A disappointing effort from Seth MacFarlane, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” contains some inspired moments and flashes of brilliance, but not enough to recommend this film. This story may have worked better as an installment of MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” or “American Dad,” but it’s too thin to carry a feature film.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West,” rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence, and drug material currently is playing in theaters.