Netflix UK film review: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Neil Patrick Harris' moustache7
Philip W Bayles | On 11, Oct 2014Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlize Theron
Watch A Million Ways to Die in the West online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Seth MacFarlane’s second feature-length film was always going to be a tough act to sell. Not only does it have to compete against the Family Guy creator’s debut film, Ted – which some considered to be the funniest film of 2012 – but, as a comedy Western, it also puts itself in the unfavourable yet inevitable position of being compared to Mel Brooks’ immortal Blazing Saddles. Sadly, A Million Ways to Die in the West fails to live up to either, but not for lack of trying.
The premise of A Million Ways… can basically be summed up in the form of a question: what if Brian Griffin were alive in the Old West?
MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, a timid sheep farmer who would clearly be more at home in modern day New York than in the small town of Old Stump, Arizona. His girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him and her new beau (Neil Patrick Harris) ends up challenging Albert to a duel. Thankfully, help arrives in the form of the beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron), an expert shooter with a dubious past and a notorious outlaw (Liam Neeson) for a husband.
MacFarlane has assembled a top comedic cast and they fit their roles remarkably well. Seyfried and Harris feel like a moustachioed Barney Stinson married Karen Smith from Mean Girls (which is awesome), Neeson is clearly having a whale of a time chewing on the scenery as he growls at everyone, and Theron turns out to have a wicked sense of comic timing perfect for MacFarlane’s brand of snarky and irreverent humour. Rounding out the cast are Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman, whose wonderful on-screen relationship – she’s a prostitute who won’t have sex with him until they’re married – stays funny for a lot longer than it probably should.
The weak link, somewhat ironically, is MacFarlane himself. The earlier reference to Brian Griffin wasn’t just facetious: Stark is so much like Brian (from a sense of superiority to a nearly identical voice) that seeing the actor in the flesh just feels kind of weird, like a reverse uncanny valley. It doesn’t help that, with his Rat Pack good looks, seeing him play the ‘misunderstood loser who doesn’t get the girl’ role only seems disingenuous.
Still, this isn’t a character study. It’s a comedy. By definition, its prime objective is to make you laugh. And A Million Ways… is a funny movie. Mostly. Those with a particular penchant for Family Guy or American Dad! will find a lot to like here: bad taste gags and pop culture references abound, and some jokes – including a reference to one of cinema’s more unconventional Westerns – rank among the funniest that MacFarlane has written in years.
Sadly, like Family Guy, the film does have a penchant for dragging some of the jokes out for far too long, or devolving into the kind of puerile comedy one might expect from an Adam Sandler film. Neil Patrick Harris pooping in a hat isn’t funny the first time, and the experience doesn’t improve with repetition. It doesn’t help that the plot often takes wild deviations for the sake of the jokes – in particular, one scene in a barn dance seems to have been included specifically for a musical number that wasn’t all that funny anyway.
Taken strictly on its own merits, A Million Ways to Die in the West is not a bad comedy – certainly not the worst comedy of the year. It’s got a cast of talented actors performing jokes that are amusing at least half the time, and that’s better than a lot of directors can manage. But compared to the high standards set by some of Seth MacFarlane’s previous work, and the benchmark of Blazing Saddles, this Western falls decidedly short.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.