Screened Out – A Million Ways to Die in the West

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 0

Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris

Blazing Saddles still claims the top spot. There have been very few comic Westerns over the years, and this movie may give us reason why. Even with some genuinely funny moments, this flick feels like a clever stand-up routine stretched into a two-hour skit of gross-out humor, violence, and dust.

MacFarlane’s over-extended jokes may work in a half-hour cartoon format (Family Guy), but they don’t hold up this aimless movie.

MacFarlane is a sheep farmer out in the desert (where there’s almost no grass). He hates the West; it’s dangerous and drab – he’ll tell you, ad nauseum. The only thing worth living for is his love (Seyfried), until she dumps him for a dapper mustached salesman (Harris). A new woman (Theron) with a dark and mysterious past saves MacFarlane. She helps him raise his self-esteem, teaching him how to preserve himself in this world bent on killing him.

Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, and others actors aren't used to their full comic potential.

Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, and others actors aren’t used to their full comic potential.

Good thing, too, because some outlaws are coming to town. At some point.

The first few moments seem on the right track: the giant titles, the grand landscapes, and the sweeping score borrowing from Aaron Copland and City Slickers.

Then MacFarlane makes a fatal choice, attacking the subject of the Wild West with a decidedly modern sensibility. Instead of focusing on character, plot, and arc, MacFarlane (who previously directed one film, Ted) bogs down the action with long comic monologues about how horrible everything is. At first, it’s funny. It doesn’t take long, though, for his kvetching to start sounding like an updated Woody Allen rant.

To further make his point, MacFarlane uses his love of far-fetched humor. Bar brawls turn into cavalcades of gross-out bits with limbs snapping like twigs and blood spurting everywhere. When there isn’t violence to laugh at, MacFarlane loads the show up with plenty of poop and bodily fluids.

What’s missing here is drive, one plot point building on another. It makes this film feel longer than it is. AMWtDitW desperately needs tension. A better script would’ve tied each of the comic bits together into a more cohesive, cumulative ending – a shoot-out that would bring aspects of everything else from earlier together for a big finish.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Instead, MacFarlane wants to beat it into our heads that the Wild West was wild – deadly and crazed. I could see this working in a five-minute comic monologue; it seems a waste to turn it into a two-hour film.

The worst problem is that MacFarlane doesn’t use his very credible actors, so we don’t really get to care for their characters. Theron is a very funny person (as we’ve seen in Young Adult). She’s given no chance to stretch here, nor is evil Neeson. Harris, Ribisi, and Silverman are very funny in their small parts, but they’re completely useless to the larger plot – of which, as I’ve said, there is very little.

Mostly, these really great actors just circle around MacFarlane and his wild aim at comedy. Even with the occasional laugh, many of his shots don’t hit their marks.

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