dir: Seth McFarlane
I couldn’t say which movie is the funniest I’ve seen this year. There are still a few months to go, so I probably haven’t seen it yet. I can safely say which is the least funny comedy I’ve seen this year, or will see this year, or in many a year.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is the least comedic comedy I’ve seen in a donkey’s age. On that score alone I have to say that for me the flick is an abject failure. What bugs me the most is that it should have been something nifty. Some poor studio gave McFarlane a huge budget and thought comedy gold and box office glory would ensue. Clearly there was no screenplay yet when that money changed hands.
McFarlane is guilty of many things, but he is someone who has made me laugh before, many times. Family Guy, Cleveland Show and American Dad may not have the stellar reputation of shows like The Simpsons or even South Park, but they do possess streams and streams of gags. Not all of them make you laugh, and most are risqué just for the sake of it, gleefully stumbling all over the fine line between ironic sexism/racism/homophobia/whateverism and actual sexism/racism etc.
I was shocked, shocked to see how few gags landed in this. The phrase ‘hit and miss’ can refer to any kind of ratio of gags that work to gags that don’t, but in something that’s passable you’d think it was perhaps for each gag that fell flat, maybe the next two or three would land, and it’d be okay.
I’d put the ratio here at about twenty lame gags to about one that works, and even then the ones that work are amusing rather than causing any spontaneous laughter. I’m splitting hairs needlessly here. The whole thing is a misconceived unfunny disaster.
I was quite disappointed, I have to say. After all, I do like to laugh, it’s one of life’s cheapest and most reliable pleasures.
The biggest mistake, other than having a script without decent gags in it, is Seth McFarlane himself play the lead. Take a fucking acting class, champ. He may do oodles and oodles of voice acting work on his countless shows, but he’s an awkward and unpleasant presence on screen. It pains me to say that, because I thought he’d be, and this would be, way funnier.
It’s not even as funny as a bad Blazing Saddles rip-off. If it had ripped Blazing Saddles off, even if shamelessly, it couldn’t have been this unfunny.
McFarlane plays the lead character, Albert Stark. A sheep farmer. On the Frontier. He hates the West, and he hates it and expresses this hatred in purely 21st Century terms. I can’t even count the amount of times he or someone near him says “I know, right?” Everyone else around him (except for Charlize Theron’s character of Anna, the love interest) speaks and acts like they’re all old timey, but he speaks purely like a contemporary shithead of today.
He points out to his friends, ranting moreso, that where they are is a terrible place to be, because, like the title of the film we’re watching, there are just so many ways for them all to die. What’s never really explained is why Albert, or whatever you call the character McFarlane plays, or more importantly how Albert got to the 1885s, because he constantly talks like someone from the present.
I can’t really see the levels upon which this movie exists as a homage or a parody of Westerns, because instead of dealing with the tropes or clichés of the genre, it basically just uses the scenery, the set design of Westerns, and everything else is whatever shit popped into McFarlane’s head at any stage before or during the production.
And then there’s the costumes and such, but, like in his cartoons, McFarlane sees no point in adhering to the boundaries of a setting because that would just be a hindrance to making whatever juvenile joke seems ‘funniest’ for the moment.
I’m not opposed to crass or crude humour, but most of the gags on the gutter side of the scale in this flick left me cold. The problem for me was, apart from the fact that they weren’t funny, they were just so obvious, so patently obvious. I’m thinking of two particular gags, both of the pees and poos variety that would delight my seven-year-old. Such gags could be funny, in theory. They’re just so depressingly lame here. So uninspired. I know I’d have to be an idiot to expect anything different, but I would have thought these gagsters could have thought up something better than the kind of crap you see in those awful Friedberg/Selzer Scary Movie/Epic Movie pastiches that are less funny than cancer.
Sarah Silverman is a comic I’ve always liked in almost everything I’ve seen her in, and even she is wasted here. The set up of her gag is that she and her fiancé are waiting until marriage to have sex, and yet she works as a prostitute, slamming any lowlife that pays. Oh wow, it’s such a brilliant mockery of Christians and their attitude towards pre-marital sex, but what do they do with it? What can they do with it? Absolutely fuck all. It’s a gag like so many others in this where McFarlane thinks stretching it out will make it funnier, will make it kill. His instincts in many cases, especially gags he’s delivering, are dead wrong.
It’s strange that those instincts of his have failed him so profoundly in this instance. He can usually manage to see the funny in a scene and get it to pay off. Ted, the flick about the talking, sentient, drug using teddy bear might have been a pretty dumb flick, but at least it worked. It actually worked. And that had the obstacle, the impediment of Mark fucking Wahlberg in a lead role.
Mark Wahlberg is funnier and a better performer than Seth McFarlane. It hurts to say that, but you could scientifically prove it comparing the two movies directed by the same goddamn director. You can. It’s science, you can’t argue with it.
There would be bits that I liked, otherwise I would have walked out on it a few minutes into the ‘experience’. About the only time I laughed was during a song one of the villains in the flick (the often great Neil Patrick Harris) convinces a band to play during a dance in praise of moustaches, because he himself is meant to be an exemplar of the art of moustachery.
There’s plenty of footage of Monument Valley, the iconic mesa / geographical feature that’s featured in thousands of movies, Westerns or otherwise, which, you know, is great. Always love seeing Monument Valley. The flick isn’t set in or near Monument Valley, or Utah, but who cares? Even so, if I wanted to see Monument Valley I could watch any one of those better flicks and see it in all its glory.
And the last of the only three things that made me laugh in the flick was Gilbert Gottfried playing Abraham Lincoln screaming in his trademark way at a bunch of students. Three laughs. 100 minutes. Do the math.
The music, at least, was suitably Western-y. Everything else, well, when I wasn’t bored yet incredulous, I was openly aggravated. I was also openly marvelling at Charlize Theron, who comes out of this fine, but she’s just so much move convincing even as a comedian than McFarlane is. Obviously she’s a fine actor who’s done plenty of stuff all over the spectrum of human experience, but in the scenes where she has to pretend to have romantic feelings for McFarlane’s character, I was staggered at how believable she made something so completely unbelievable.
Even she’s funnier than McFarlane. Hell, the rattlesnakes are funnier than McFarlane. This is a real shame, because with a modicum of inspiration, and possibly someone, anyone clipping McFarlane over the ear and telling him to knock it off, they could have massaged much of this crap into something funnier. With a better screenplay and the same director it might have worked. With the same screenplay and a better director it might have worked (and been twenty minutes shorter, and a thousand times funnier).
As it stands with this limp, poxy screenplay, and McFarlane as lead character and director, this flick is just a dull missed opportunity with less laughs in it than reading the court transcripts of a murder trial. A Million Ways to Die in the West is about as funny as losing a leg to gangrene, but not quite as enjoyable.
3 times I saw things I never needed to see and never want to see again out of 10
“She moved to town a couple of years ago to take over the schoolmarm job. Our old schoolmarm got her throat slit by a fast moving tumbleweed.” – the whole film is that funny – A Million Ways to Die in the West