Seth MacFarlane apparently believes that because you can do something, you should. Does he have the ability to show us a sheep’s genitals and then have the animal urinate on him? Yes he does. Can he resist doing it? No he can’t. He also thinks there’s something appealing about having all of his characters—especially the hero (played by himself) and heroine (Charlize Theron—use the “f” word at every opportunity—but not for any particular reason. Armando Iannucci and the writers of HBO’s Veep have elevated cursing to a plateau of high art, but not MacFarlane. He just thinks every f***ing piece of dialogue should contain at least one f***ing expletive, like a naughty schoolboy who’s putting one over on the teacher.
It’s too bad, because A Million Ways to Die in the West has real possibilities and a fair number of funny gags. The film, which MacFarlane wrote with his longtime cohorts Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, is built around a single but solid joke: living in the West was dangerous and ridiculously uncomfortable. A nasty bad guy (Liam Neeson) splits up his gang and sends his wife (Theron) ahead to a one-horse town, where she takes a liking to sheep farmer MacFarlane and tries to persuade him that he’s wasting his time mooning over the girl (Amanda Seyfried) who just dumped him.
MacFarlane’s production team has provided handsome sets, locations, and music as a backdrop for his Western comedy…but the overall film, while amusing at times, is a fast-food movie with no staying power. MacFarlane acquits himself well in the leading role and shares the laugh content with costars Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, and others. But he can’t decide if he wants us to take his hero seriously or not; it varies from scene to scene and reveals the lack of thought behind the project.
If nothing else, the movie may remind MacFarlane’s core audience of what they’re missing by not having Westerns as part of their regular movie menu. The majestic scenery of Monument Valley opens the film, set to Joel McNeely’s Elmer Bernstein-inspired music, and invites us into a world we don’t often get to see on the big screen.