TMN Movie Review: "A Million Ways to Die in the West"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: May 30, 2014
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Genre: Western / Comedy

In the style of "Blazing Saddles," there is a new Western comedy riding into town. In "A Million Ways to Die in the West," which offers plenty of action and gunfights, deadly accidents are par for the course, and even a simple trip to the doctor poses significant risk. In this movie, one man dares to take courage and overcome the pitfalls of his environment. This fresh-faced new classic stars Seth MacFarlane, Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris and Amanda Seyfried.

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is the brain child of Seth MacFarlane, creator of the ever popular animated series "Family Guy" and director of 2012's comic breakout hit "Ted." McFarlane directs, writes and stars in this uproarious satirical Western comedy about a man's struggles to survive in the treacherous environment of 1882 Arizona while reclaiming his self-esteem. Here, MacFarlane plays Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer whose girlfriend Louise, played by Amanda Seyfried, is fed up with his general lack of manliness. When Albert loses a gunfight, the fickle Louise leaves him for Foy, played by Neil Patrick Harris, which sets the film's plot in motion.

Albert soon meets the mysterious and alluring Anna, played by Charlize Theron, who makes it her personal mission to help Albert reclaim his courage and sense of self-worth. She and Albert strike up a friendship, drawing the attention of Anna's ex-lover, Clinch, played by Liam Neeson. Anna believes that if Albert can defeat Clinch in a gun battle, he can win back the love and respect of his former flame, Louise. She gives Albert shooting lessons and encouragement to prepare for his big showdown with her gun-toting ex.

The movie juxtaposes modern language, including some especially modern profanities, against a historic setting, which creates an aspect of surrealism that adds to the comedic value of the film. Besides the surreal, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" also makes ample use of gross-out humor, the most memorable of which involves a hat used as an emergency receptacle for diarrhea. Accidental drug use and strange sex also serve as joke material.

The screenplay flows like a series of comedy sketches. Most scenes are built upon a central gag that flows into the sketch. Some viewers may find that this type of set up helps keep the movie interesting and well-paced.

One of the film's key strengths is its beautiful cinematography. Director of photography Michael Barrett masterfully showcases the Arizona landscape in all its bright, dusty and colorful glory, making 1880s Arizona pop right off the screen. His superb shots are rich and expansive. They are full of classic desert beauty in the form of sand, rocks, cacti and breathtaking sunsets.

Standout performances from Hollywood heavyweights Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron add class to the film. The two A-list actors handle the broad-context comedy of this movie surprisingly well, showcasing their comedic talents in a way that feels natural and balances well against the overriding bawdiness of the film. Neil Patrick Harris is brilliant as Foy, a classic love-to-hate character who waggles his eyebrows and twirls his mustache to great effect. Each of these actors is inherently likable on screen, possessing comedic skill and palpable charm.

Capable comedians Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman are engaging and entertaining as Edward and Ruth, a virgin and his Christian-whore fiancée. Silverman is brilliant as the equal-parts adorable and grotesque Ruth, who shamelessly regales her virginal fiancé with all the grisly details of her job. Ribisi plays the adorably innocent virgin, who encourages and appreciates his soon-to-be-wife's profession, but he rushes to close his Bible when she tries to show him her genitals for the first time.

Seth MacFarlane shows a different side of himself as the tender-hearted, thoughtful and somewhat vulnerable Albert. Audiences can connect with him as he struggles to regain his footing in a perilous and often unfair world. It is easy to root for him to finally come out on top as he prepares to go up against Clinch. Albert also finds himself at the center of some well-executed action scenes that add excitement to the plot and exceed audience expectations.

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is good-natured comedic fun. Slapstick, absurdity and touches of gore are interspersed with heartfelt moments, exciting thrills and some truly smart comedy. At its heart, it is a story of redemption with valuable lessons about perseverance, friendship and the importance of healthy self-esteem. While it is not appropriate for kids, adult audiences are sure to get a kick out of its in-your-face brand of comedy. It is definitely on track to be one of 2014's most triumphant comedies.