I want to make one point clear at the start of this review: I don’t really like Seth MacFarlane. His penchant for pop culture reference and cartoony frat-boy non-sequitur shenanigans was amusing to me when I was a teenager watching Family Guy, but as the years have gone by I’ve recognized MacFarlane as a bit of a one-trick pony. He’s managed to make a decent career for himself off that one trick, and I don’t find him to really be offensive in any way, so I’m pretty content to categorize his humor as something that just doesn’t work for me. If you like him, that’s fine; to each their own. That said, even taking into account my dislike for MacFarlane’s comedic sensibilities, A Million Ways To Die In The West is not a good movie. It’s more like a single episode of Family Guy that’s has been stretched to a two hour breaking point than a solid movie, and the jokes get old pretty fast once you realize that the movie has shown its hand by the end of the first half hour.
And, unfortunately, this film doesn’t have a strong enough plot to carry it without good humor. MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer who’s self-aware of the shitty living conditions of the old west and is perpetually the smartest guy in the room in a town full of idiots. He’s the victim of a nice-guys-finish-last scenario when his beautiful girlfriend dumps him for a manlier archetype, and what starts off as a reclamation-of-his-girlfriend quest becomes one of self-discovery and self-esteem with the help of a new love interest who cares for him just the way he is. Essentially, this is just a high school nerd empowerment fantasy set in the Old West, and the film hits the appropriate beats exactly on que every time. In other words, we’ve been there, done that.
The only way such a tired premise could work is if substantial comedy writing takes the brunt of the entertainment responsibilities, and it seems like MacFarlane and his writing associates really phoned this one in. The film has approximately five recurring gags to its credit, and that’s about it. They usually are a variation on the theme of “Boy, the Old West really kinda sucked, huh?” sometimes followed by some rudimentary slapstick. But instead of building on its gags to reiterate its points in new and interesting situations, the jokes simply become repetitive. For example, there’s a joke about a guy dating a prostitute who won’t have sex with him because she genuinely wants to wait until they’re married. I see how that can be funny, but the film decides to remind us how funny it is by simply repeating the same punchline on at least four separate occasions throughout the film. Even if you thought it was funny the first time, I doubt you would think it so after two hours of repetition.
A Million Ways To Die In The West is a pretty unfortunate spectacle, as it genuinely seems to think itself a silly Old West comedy in the tradition of something like Blazing Saddles, yet comes off as something left on the cutting room floor for one of MacFarlane’s animated shows. Its greatest sin is that it just feels boring and tired, the worst thing for any comedy to be. Even if you like Seth MacFarlane, this probably isn’t the film for you, because MacFarlane certainly hasn’t brought his A-game.
What are your thoughts on Seth MacFarlane? Overrated? Underrated? Don’t really care? Let me know in the comments below.