A 'Million' ways to laugh
‘Family Guy’ creator Seth MacFarlane strikes comic gold both starring in and directing ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’
By Carl Kozlowski 05/28/2014
Albert is a sheepherder living in the Wild West in 1882, surrounded by tough-talking gunslingers and whoremongers who could kill a man from 1,000 yards with one shot.
Albert can’t hit the broad side of a barn when he takes aim, though, and in the new movie “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” he is scoffed at by both his townspeople and his own parents for being a coward.
The irony is that Albert is played by Seth MacFarlane, the comedic wizard behind three of the most successful cartoons in TV history — “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” — and one of the most successful R-rated movies ever made, “Ted.” Having made Fox well over $1 billion with those efforts, MacFarlane had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with his next movie, and he made the audacious move of not only co-writing and directing a full-bore comic Western, but he starring in it as Albert as well.
That kind of chutzpah could have sunk the movie, as MacFarlane had never acted beyond doing voiceovers for his animated and animatronic characters before. Amazingly, he succeeds thoroughly, giving a nuanced and hilarious performance while crafting a film that has genuinely sumptuous cinematography and a rousing score to boot.
“Million” introduces the audience to Albert on a day in which his longtime girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him in favor of his longtime archrival, the far more successful Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who sports a ridiculous mustache and owns a store that specializes in mustache maintenance products. Utterly frustrated with his pathetic life, Albert is ready to leave for a new life in San Francisco when he saves a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) from a bar fight.
He and Anna become fast friends, with Albert pouring his heart out to her but Anna remaining mysteriously quiet about her past. That’s because, unbeknownst to Albert, Anna is the wife of a dangerous bandit named Clinch (Liam Neeson), who had her hide away from him after a gold robbery.
Anna is gorgeous, but she’s also tomboyish, and she teaches Albert to shoot over the course of a week so he can have a gunfight with Foy to win Louise’s heart. But when a member of Clinch’s gang sees her kissing Albert, he suddenly faces a threat from Clinch too.
That’s the basic plot of “Million,” but it’s packed wall to wall with other gags, including a hilarious string of comically shocking sight gags that kill people, including a man who gets gored by a rampaging bull and another man who is crushed by a giant block of ice right as he’s delivering it for the townspeople’s summer satisfaction. MacFarlane makes plenty of astute anachronistic jokes about how horrible life in the Old West had been, along with a pretty frequent stream of flatulence jokes topped by a grossly funny scene of a character attempting to delay a diarrhea attack in the hopes of not losing his aim in a gun duel.
Sarah Silverman also amps up the raunch factor as a whore who will let 10 guys a day have their way with her, but tells her long–suffering and virginal boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi) that they need to save sex for their wedding night. This may make it sound like the movie’s value lies in offending the audience rather than making them laugh, but MacFarlane’s perfect use of tone (along with co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellsly Wild) makes all such scenes more silly than shocking.
In reality, the most shocking thing about “Million” is the fact that it works so well. For those who can handle R-rated comedy, it’s easily the best since the terrific “We’re the Millers” last August.