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Wednesday, May 28, 2014 08:00 pm

MacFarlane Shoots a Million Blanks in "Die"

In my mind, I’ve always thought of Seth MacFarlane as the Emperor with New Clothes of comedians.  While millions have embraced his Family Guy television show and hailed him as a comic genius, all I see is an overgrown class clown who’s somehow survived being beaten up by bullies and made it big in Hollywood.  While he did reveal his true lack of wit when he hosted the Academy Awards ceremony, it should be said that 2012’s Ted was an unexpected delight – a genuinely funny if crude look at one man’s fear of growing up that provided some keen insight into the mind of the adolescent man. 

Anna (Charlize Theron) shows Albert (Seth MacFarlane) how to shoot in "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Courtesy Universal Pictures

 

Based on that film, I went into his latest cinematic foray A Million Ways to Die in the West with an open-mind, thinking he could subvert this tattered if nearly forgotten genre in the way Mel Brooks did with Blazing Saddles. I couldn’t have been more off base if I’d taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  Simplistic, unimaginative and sophomoric, this is an agonizing exercise in misguided moviemaking that has one clever joke amidst a litany of misfires.  Out of his depth as a director of anything relating to visual scope, MacFarlane has seemingly lost his ability to pace a film as well as this is a meandering exercise that overstays its welcome before arriving at its predictable ending.

The director stars as Albert, an incompetent sheep farmer whose been jilted by his gold-digging girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for rich businessman and moustache aficionado Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).  Despondent, he finds solace with Anna (Charlize Theron), a mystery woman who’s suddenly appeared in town.  Inexplicably, she finds Albert attractive, takes him under her wing and soon teaches him how to shoot, a skill he doesn’t realize will come in quite handy when her husband Clinch (Liam Neeson), the fastest gun in the territory, tracks her down.

A dance floor showdown takes place in "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Courtesy Universal Pictures

 

What damns the film from the start is MacFarlane’s inability to find a consistent tone.  His jokes land with a thud because his character is constantly outside the action commenting on it.  He’s not laughing while being a part of his subject, as Brooks’ and company did in Saddles, but is laughing at it, a narcissistic approach that’s mean-spirited at its core.  This is more akin to a Mystery Science Theater exercise, but instead of MacFarlane commenting on the film from the audience, he’s inserted himself into it, a strategy that never gels.  Equally off-putting is the movie’s brand of slapstick, which is far too violent to be funny.  A barroom brawl replete with a person’s neck being gouged out with a shattered bottle, another’s leg being violently broken and a woman’s head being bashed open on the bar seems more akin to a Quentin Tarantino film than this comedy. And don’t get me started on the poor unfortunate who gets his skull shattered by a falling block of ice; the blood that’s splattered in this moment would break any comedic mood.

As for the jokes themselves, well they’re the sort that MacFarlane has become famous for, namely gags of a scatological nature, the sort that puts middle-schoolers in stiches every time. Yep, fart, poop and pee jokes are the order of the day and for good measure, a couple pedophilia gags are thrown in as well.  This isn’t cutting edge humor but rather desperate attempts to generate laughs that fall flat because they’re obvious and repetitious.  MacFarlane is a lowest-common denominator comedian and Million is nothing more than a collection of simplistic gags that are far from innovative. He doesn’t push the edge of the comedic envelope here; it’s far safer delivering and beating the same joke again and again like a dead horse.   

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