‘Million Ways to Die’ is endurance test

June 11, 2014
Seth MacFarlane in A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane has helped create perhaps the single best piece of work in his oeuvre. It's called "Cosmos," and can seen on television every Sunday night, as well as online for free.

Sadly, for filmgoers, he has decided to squeeze out a rancid pile of reheated humor and stale gags called "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

It's a one-gag Western wonder that gets long in the saddle within the first few minutes. Its primary conceit is taking shots and genre clichés through a modern lens. MacFarlane wants it to be so much more but cannot resist his potty-centric proclivities and makes the film feel "Dances with Wolves"-length, just with a lot more farts.

Perhaps emboldened by the smashing success of " Ted," MacFarlane decided to not only write and direct, but to cast himself as the romantic lead (perhaps for no other reason but an excuse to make out with Charlize Theron).

Set in a stereotypical sleepy Western town, MacFarlane plays mild mannered sheep farmer Albert Stark. He's an Old West version of a nerd: studied in languages, allergic to violence, awkward with the ladies and more interested in how startlingly easy it is to meet one's demise.

His lack of manliness has caused his girlfriend's (played by Amanda Seyfried) interest to wane, and seek comfort in the arms of the local moustachery (played by Neil Patrick Harris).

Lucky for Albert, things look up when Theron's mysterious Anna trots into town and shows him how to, um, handle his pistol. The rest merely plays out as a super-obvious romance with countless jokes involving excrement, sheep, flatulence, sheep, pubic areas, sheep and sometimes a mixture of the these items.

Liam Neeson, looking as though he was born to star in Westerns, pops up early on, only to vanish for the majority of the film until its final, laborious minutes. There are a few other non-sequitur moments that are strangely out of place, gravely unfunny, or both (Ryan Reynolds shows up for nanosecond, only to shrug and then get shot).

I have tried countless times to make peace with "Family Guy," only to repeatedly reach the end wondering the key to its longevity. I'm not one who's easily offended, so I can overlook the endless stream of crotch-centered comedy. It's just that there seems to be no glue that binds the gags together. It operates more as though the jokes are written first, and the storyline is secondary in order to string them together.

It's the same fault that plagues such films as "Epic Movie," "Meet the Spartans," and others of that ilk. There are lazy references, but the central story provides us nothing in which we wish to invest our time. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the film kept the comedy at the same breakneck pace as packed into "Family Guy," but on numerous occasions, the film crawls on forever without a single zinger to cross the screen.

Add to all of this its just-shy-of-two-hour run-time, and "West" becomes a clock-checking endurance test of almost unbearable proportions. The film even fails to cash in on the promise of random death and destruction of its title. A few scenes already revealed in the trailer aside, there is not even a sense of random morbidity that could keep us on our toes.

Perhaps MacFarlane's next venture in film should take a cue from his "Cosmos" television show and focus on the future instead of living in the past.

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