Love him or hate him, Seth MacFarlane has a knack for mocking society and pop-culture. His first feature-length film, Ted, played out like an extended episode of Family Guy, was raunchy, mildly funny, and just likable enough to be recommendable. Following the success of this hour-and-a-half theatrical debut comes A Million Ways to Die in the West, a comedy-western directed, written by, and starring the famed animator and voice actor as a meek sheep farmer in hot, hellish, western-era Arizona who gets hunted down by the toughest gunfighter in the territory, Clinch, played intimidatingly by Liam Neeson, after he begins dating the outlaws wife.
A Million Ways clearly tries early on to emulate the feel of a classic western, as its long opening credit sequence, a throwback many 50s classics as well as Mel Brooks’ beloved Blazing Saddles, indicates. The cinematography is astounding here, showcasing Arizona’s enormous rock formations that adorn the eternal desert. Sadly, this is where the positives stop.
The film quickly becomes an unidentifiable mess of jumbled comedy. Scenes that are poorly stitched together and oftentimes absolutely pointless, and characters who come off as merely their actors on screen (with the exception of Neeson, who I’m not sure knew this was a comedy). They have no identities and because of MacFarlane’s writing, they honestly aren’t very funny. Sarah Silverman, for example, is a good comedian, but here, her one personality trait is she’s a hooker who pretends to be a strong Christian around her mild-mannered boyfriend, that’s it. MacFarlane himself is the best example of this; he drags out jokes that could have been funny if they had ended on an earlier note. He even makes himself out to be the most flawless, nicest character, which comes off almost as egotistical. It’s the poorest way to make the audience care at all about him as he whines nonstop how terrible the American west is when given any opportunity.
The biggest flaw is one that plagues much of MacFarlane’s other works: the jokes are lazy. Cameos like Christopher Lloyd and Bill Maher are thrown in with no rhyme or reason other than because they’re well-known, the jokes are typical pop-culture fare and forgettable, like jokes about life expectancy and maturity in 1882 or comparing a children’s toy to complaints about iPhones in an incredibly forced conversation. Some jokes don’t even make sense in the context of the world, like MacFarlane and his horse suddenly teleporting onto a moving train in an otherwise realistic world. Nothing leaves a lasting impression, with the unfortunate exception of the gross-out humor tossed in, again, incredibly lazily.
MacFarlane has talent, and he turns in a good performance, but his film is a pretty but forgettable cluster of blandness that, with the exception of an admittedly hilarious Gilbert Gottfried cameo, left me grimacing throughout.