At The Movies: A Million Ways To Die In The West

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‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’


Seth MacFarlane and friends in ‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’.‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’

By John Lyons

SETH MacFarlane is a busy man.

In the last 15 years he’s created three cartoons: Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. He’s done most of the voice-acting and directing on all of them, not to mention writing, animating and producing.

He co-wrote and directed 2012’s summer blockbuster Ted, and voiced the titular character. He released his own jazz album, hosted the Oscars, produced Cosmos. etc.

It’s not hard to see why MacFarlane is one of the comedy giants in Hollywood right now. It seems like he’s done everything except act in his own movie… wait, no — scratch that. His second comedic feature film, ‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’ just opened, and MacFarlane stars in the lead role!

Honestly, I really like it when a western comes out. Westerns are not a safe bet at the box office at all (see ‘The Lone Ranger’), so whenever someone does make a western it’s usually a labor of love, like ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘True Grit’.

It’s easy to tell from the opening title sequence that MacFarlane is indeed such a lover of westerns. The opening sequence is a giant homage to the sweeping western landscapes we’d see in classic John Ford and Sergio Leone films.

MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, the straight man in a western frontier full of bandits, idiots, and everything in between. Since he is neither bandit nor idiot, but rather, a coward more than anything, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Apart from his cowardice, what makes Albert stand out is his blissful self-awareness, which is actually where a lot of the humor comes from. As he says at one point in the film, he’s “not the hero, really more like the guy in the crowd who’s making fun of the hero’s shirt.”

Albert is a sheep farmer, and a very bad one at that. He hates the west, hates his town, and hates sheep farming. The only thing that brings him joy is his girlfriend Louise. And as per MacFarlane’s black sense of humor, Louise breaks up with Albert at the beginning of the film, leaving him heartbroken.

Then along comes Anna (played by Charlize Theron), a newcomer to the town who bonds with Albert and gives him a shoulder to cry on. As their friendship progresses she tries to coax him out of his shell, and get him to stand up for himself.

If Seth MacFarlane is interested in one thing, it’s not taking himself too seriously. The film takes it’s cues from the likes of the ‘Airplane!’ and ‘Naked Gun’ series and gives us ten jokes where other comedies would’ve given us just one.

The problem that I usually have with MacFarlane’s comedic sensibility is that he largely relies on outdated pop culture references for his jokes, meaning that more often than not a lot of the jokes fly straight over our heads.

However, since A Million Ways to Die in the West is set in 1882, there is no pop culture to speak of. The humor comes from the characters and the situation.

Having that said though, even though the film is mostly joke after joke, the comedy slows to a stop for the quieter, more intimate scenes between Albert and Anna. When Albert isn’t making wisecracks or feeling sorry for himself, we really get to see what a sweetheart he actually is.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true homage to classic American westerns if there wasn’t a villain at the center of the piece. And who better to play a villainous caricature of the Clint Eastwood-type than Liam Neeson. His character, Clinch Leatherwood, is the infamous outlaw who barges into the town to claim whatever he decides is his.

‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’ has non-stop laughs, impressive action sequences, more charm than anyone could’ve expected, and an incredible soundtrack that’s definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there’s one comedy playing right now that I had to recommend, it’d be this one in a heartbeat.


• ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is currently playing at Tralee Omniplex.

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