The summer slate is always filled with Hollywood action films that are looking to fill auditoriums around the world. However, viewers will get the occasional comedy in the cinema, although how many of them are actually any good? Very few of them. This seems to be one of the most difficult genres for many filmmakers, as the majority of them rely on cheap gags that ultimately leave auditoriums in silence. Seth MacFarlane has become a household name in television animation with hilarious shows such as Family Guy and American Dad. He tried his hand at writing and directing for the big screen with Ted back in 2012. However, it left me feeling a bit disappointed. After hearing that he would be both in front of the camera as well as behind it for his next feature, I was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, even us MacFarlane fans will be left feeling disappointed once again.
The cowardly Albert (Seth MacFarlane) is a farmer, who is looked down upon by many in the territory. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), he believes that all hope is lost for him. Soon after, a mysterious new woman by the name of Anna (Charlize Theron) moves into town. She gives him a new sense of confidence that will be put to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger named Clinch (Liam Neeson), announces his arrival. Now, he must utilize this new-found courage if he has any hope of surviving Clinch's rampage.
Albert is supposed to be the sympathetic character that the average guy is able to relate to. He isn't particularly strong or fast, and has never actually used a gun before. Albert simply wants to be happy, but he becomes even more destroyed after he finds out that Louise is dating the elitist Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild's screenplay follows a rather familiar plot about a man who doesn't understand his self-worth. He's hopelessly in love with a woman who doesn't treat him well, and it will take the guidance of another person in order to restore his self-esteem. Meanwhile, Anna is clearly unhappy with her marriage. She finds a dear friend within Albert, as they soon begin supporting one another. While there are several other characters to be seen throughout the duration of the picture, they're primarily present in order to provide an instance of humor, rather than any real substance to the plot itself. Unfortunately, the story lacks any emotional impact, making it very difficult to remain invested in the characters.
A Million Ways to Die in the West wants to make you laugh really badly. The first act is absolutely brutal, as there isn't a single laugh to be found. It tries way too hard to be funny, and it shows. Given the fact that Seth MacFarlane is able to go as far as he wants with an R rating, he ensures to get as raunchy as possible. This wouldn't be an issue, but it turns into nothing more than unfortunate slapstick and incredibly weak sex jokes. MacFarlane continues to employ the structure of his famous "cut-away" sequences shown in Family Guy, which simply don't work very well in a motion picture setting. Fortunately, the film improves through its second act. Once Anna becomes a larger part of the story, the humor becomes much more fluid. Rather than it working against the story, it flows with it. Albert and Anna's interactions with Louise and Foy are sure to deliver upon some much needed laughs. However, when Anna isn't on screen, the humor reverts back to its unfortunate ways.
The third act spends its time focusing more on the story and a little less on the humor. However, it's a case of too little, too late. MacFarlane's screenplay quickly tries to capitalize on the relationship dynamics, as well as throw some fights and horse chases in to tick its western genre boxes. While Clinch is clearly the antagonist, he never feels very intimidating. He's supposedly the most dangerous killer in the territory with an excellent set of gunfighting skills, but this ability is never truly seen. The focus placed on story and character development is appreciated, but MacFarlane should have dedicated some of the first act to this. Instead, it feels a lot more like an afterthought, rather than any sort of priority. While we don't need outstanding disposition work, it would be nice to have been given more of a reason to care for the leads. A few of the jokes towards the end work reasonably well, but a better screenplay would have made a world of difference.
Writer/director Seth MacFarlane brings an impressive cast along with him. MacFarlane himself is relatable as Albert, even if he's a bit bland. There isn't very much to work with in this role, but he delivers what one would expect here. Charlize Theron is clearly the film's strongest asset in the role of Anna. She's funny and highly entertaining. Unfortunately, both Theron and MacFarlane lack the chemistry needed for this dynamic to feel real. Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, and Giovanni Ribisi all suffer an equal fate of playing one-dimensional characters that are simply present in order to add their names to the credits. However, Neil Patrick Harris is certainly a stand-out as Foy. He delivers several laughs. However, this is due to his delivery, rather than the material itself. Ultimately, this film has an outstanding cast, although most of them are never truly utilized.
Over the years, it has been clear that Seth MacFarlane has a strong passion for various aspects of production, such as costuming, production design, musical scores, and more. A Million Ways to Die in the West is an excellent example of this. He successfully utilizes his crew when it comes to the picture's visual design. The costumes look good and the sets are incredibly fitting. However, the real star here is the musical score. It feels so large, as it is sure to command the attention of every viewer in the cinema. While the screenplay isn't very impressive, MacFarlane does a wonderful job at pulling audiences into this world that is sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Writer/director Seth MacFarlane tries too hard to generate laughs throughout the first act. This makes for an incredibly awkward viewing experience that will leave you simply hoping that it will get better. Fortunately, it becomes more entertaining as it continues. Albert is a character that is easy to sympathize with, but you'll wish that there was more disposition. Fortunately, the film drastically improves after Charlize Theron's Anna appearance. Neil Patrick Harris' Foy also aids in delivering upon these much needed laughs. However, the majority of the humor feels tired. A Million Ways to Die in the West occasionally hits the mark, but the majority of the jokes are misfires. Rent it.