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"A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST"
(2014) (Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A late 19th century sheep farmer tries to get his girlfriend back, all while the wife of a notorious outlaw befriends and falls for him.
PLOT:
It's 1882 and Albert (SETH MacFARLANE) is an unhappy Arizona sheep farmer whose girlfriend, Louise (AMANDA SEYFRIED), has just dumped him in favor of Foy (NEIL PATRICK HARRIS) who runs the small town's moustachery. Unlike his best friend, Edward (GIOVANNI RIBISI), whose girlfriend, Ruth (SARAH SILVERMAN), is a prostitute, Albert can't stand living in the West, particularly since so many things there can kill you.

That includes saloon fights, such as the one started by outlaw Lewis (EVAN JONES) who's there posing as the sister to Anna (CHARLIZE THERON), the unhappy wife of the gang's notorious leader, Clinch (LIAM NEESON). He's off with the rest of his men preparing to rob a stage coach, so Lewis is watching Anna in Albert's small town, and Albert and Anna become friends when he saves her during the fight.

She's drawn to his decency and thus helps train him for an upcoming gunfight with Foy over Louise. As the inevitable romance between Albert and Anna slowly develops, it's only a matter of time before Clinch arrives in the town to complicate matters and thus present yet another way Albert might die in the West.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I'm guessing someone had to have done a study about the reasons for this, but there's no denying that most people's sense of humor develops and changes as they get older. After all, you can make silly faces at a baby and he or she will laugh hysterically, but the vast majority of adults will likely cross the street to get away from someone doing the same to them.

Of course, some humor is universal and nearly covers all ages, but usually arrives in the form of sophomoric, lowest common denominator material. The prime example of that is bodily function humor. Young kids seem to love comedy bits featuring farting, pooping and peeing, and some people never lose that "appreciation" as they grow up.

Whether you did or not will have a great but not complete impact on how much you appreciate and find funny -- or not -- the material in "A Million Ways to Die in the West." The sophomore directorial outing from Seth MacFarlane -- following his big screen debut with 2012's "Ted" -- the flick is hoping to be something of an updated version of "Blazing Saddles."

That was the now mostly beloved 1974 satirical comedy from Mel Brooks filled with an assortment of cinematic anachronisms as well as -- surprise, surprise -- a campfire scene where the main attraction was none other than flatulence. MacFarlane, who also stars in the flick that he co-wrote with Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild, returns to that toilet, um, well, quite a number of times, including a pre-gunfight diarrhea into a hat sequence that goes on far too long.

In fact, one can say the same thing about the overall offering, as few satire-based comedies have the material or stamina to sustain themselves for two hours as this film tries to do. There are some laughs to be had (some of them unfortunately spoiled by the trailer and TV ads -- including the most clever one lifted from another film franchise) and certainly plenty of potential in "them thar hills." Yet, the film overstays its welcome and shows that MacFarlane has yet to grow up in terms of his comedic sensibilities (he's also the guy responsible for TV's "Family Guy," "American Dad!" and "The Cleveland Show").

Beyond the apparently obligatory scatological material and running time, the film's next biggest weak point is MacFarlane himself as the lead. As played here, he's a one-note character that purposefully doesn't fit into his time period (1882 Arizona) and thus his role feels like a gimmick rather than a truly formed, likeable and funny movie character. Charlize Theron fares better as a gunslinger's wife who befriends and then falls for him, while Neil Patrick Harris is amusing as the owner of a moustachery who's now dating the protagonist's ex-girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried -- good for one fairly funny observation about her enormous eyes).

Liam Neeson, while looking and sounding appropriate for the part, is mostly wasted as the outlaw who plays it straight without any comedic trappings, obstacles or such that could have made the role and his interaction with others funnier. Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi appear as a prostitute and her boyfriend (who are waiting to have sex until after they're married due to her being a "good Christian"), but the running gag of that incongruity wears thin fairly quickly after it's introduced.

The same can be said for the overall offering. Considering the laughs that "Ted" generated, I was expecting smarter and funnier material than what's presented here. Alas, it misses the target far too often and thus doesn't ride off into the sunset with our full appreciation. Those with arrested comedic development might find it amusing to one degree or another, but too much of the toilet humor simply stinks. "A Million Ways to Die in the West" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 27, 2014 / Posted May 30, 2014


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