Stop me if you heard this one before – a director, trying to capture that lightning in the bottle of his first theatrical release (Ted), instead incarcerates himself within the dreaded sophomore slump few fail to push through. The person this time around would be co-writer and director Seth MacFarlane, who also happens to be the creator of television’s Family Guy. If Ted showed audiences that he was fully capable of building a feature-length world, chock full of funny jokes, pop-culture references, and a throw-back plot reminiscent of a slew of 80s coming-of-age tales, A Million Ways to Die in the West presents to us a rather uneventful (and often disgusting) look at the old west.
The film opens by focusing on a cowardly, yet extremely talkative, sheep farmer, Albert (MacFarlane), as he backs out of a gunfight in front of the whole town. His girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), views this act as that of a coward and immediately breaks up with him. When Albert sees her next, she is wrapped in the arms of Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a mustache-product salesman who exudes manliness at every turn.
Still, Albert yearns to get his girlfriend back. He might not be as successful, confidant, or even as manly as Foy, his attempts to win Louise back never slow. One night, while drinking heavily in the local saloon, Albert’s intoxication challenges Foy to a gunfight. The conflict here being that Albert can’t shoot to save his life, nor has he ever actually been in a gunfight in which triggers were pulled.
Before he can think of a reason to back out, a mysterious stranger, Anna (Charlize Theron) takes it upon herself to train Albert in the ways of the shoot. Like most unlikely heroes of this ilk, he struggles with it but through montage, he eventually becomes a decent enough triggerman. But is it enough skill to defeat Foy or any other villain that comes his way?
If Ted might have felt like a pretty decent episode of Family Guy, this film feels like the opposite. A Million Ways to Die in the West is just shy of 2-hours and you’d be hard-pressed not to check your watch more than once. Certain jokes run way past their punchline (especially a scene in which Foy finds himself struggling with bowels right before a gunfight) while others simply never find their footing. The west might have indeed been a miserable time in history for which to live, but it can’t be any worse than having to watch this film. Marketing would have us believe that A Million Ways… is this generation’s Blazing Saddles. Instead, it’s more of a Wild Wild West covered in feces and semen, lacking any satirical punch that will certainly prevent it from staying within anyone’s memory.
Unless you too find the image of liquid feces sloshing out of a cowboy hat unforgettable.