A Million Ways To Die In The West

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.

Photo by Lorey Sebastian

Photo by Lorey Sebastian – Courtesy of Walt Disney Corporation

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024