After finding tremendous success with animated sitcoms Family Guy and American Dad, Seth MacFarlane ventured into the realm of live-action comedy with 2012’s smash hit Ted, which featured Mark Wahlberg as a slacker whose best friend is a sex-and-drugs-obsessed teddy bear. While MacFarlane provided the voice and motion capture for the titular stuffed animal, he never actually appeared in the film, but takes center stage in his sophomore effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West.
Set in Arizona in 1882, the film stars MacFarlane as Albert Stark, a mild-mannered sheep farmer living a mundane existence in the rough and tumble town of Old Stump. Stark has just lost his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to a wealthy local businessman (Neil Patrick Harris), and spends his days drinking away his sorrows with his best (and seemingly only) friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute fiancée, Ruth (Sarah Silverman).
Meanwhile, notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) has dispatched his wife to Old Stump to await his arrival while he and the rest of the gang pull off another stagecoach robbery. After a chance encounter during a bar fight, Anna (Charlize Theron) takes an immediate liking to Stark, and agrees to help him win back the heart of his lost love, but omitting her true identity could have grave consequences when Clinch discovers who she’s spending her days with.
While the plot sounds like it could have come from any number of Western films, everything that occurs onscreen is through the filter of MacFarlane’s unique sense of humor. Simultaneously poking fun at genre tropes while also paying homage to the classics, A Million Ways to Die in the West offers plenty to laugh at, including a hilarious song and dance number about men’s facial hair, and an absurd variety of comedic death sequences.
Unfortunately, these moments are overshadowed by the fact that most of the film’s humor is derived from the sort of R-rated content that MacFarlane can’t get away with on television. There are only so many jokes about semen, diarrhea, and homosexuality that an audience can absorb before these topics stops being funny, but the film continues well past that mark, with Silverman coming across as particularly grating. After years of the exact same schtick, haven’t people grown tired of hearing her talk about her vagina?
MacFarlane has proven time and again that he can write intelligent, thought-provoking comedy, but much like his previous film, he seems far too willing to cast that aside in favor of dick jokes and lame attempts to be offensive and shocking, just for the sake of being offensive and shocking. A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t a bad film – indeed, I think it’s a vast improvement over Ted – but it’s still not the MacFarlane film that I had hoped for. He’s better than this, and hopefully we’ll see that in his next flick.