A Million Ways To Die In The West



Main Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron

Director: Seth MacFarlane

I am exceedingly cross with the production company that is putting together my new reality television series Hooray for Hollywood House Hunting with Vicki Lester.  I graciously let them film our moving preparations out of Chateau Maine, despite its semi destroyed state, thinking that it might make interesting B roll footage.  I just got a call from Joseph, my manager, that he just received word that the film has been sold to a tacky little show called Hollywood Hoarders and that they are going to do a special intimating that all of the treasures I have collected over the years are so much dross.  Now I will admit that I have been known to keep a few more souvenirs of projects past than are strictly necessary but I am not a common hoarder.  I am featured or quoted in every one of those magazines and newspapers.  Some people only keep the clipping but I have always found that keeping the whole issue is preferable in order to truly understand the context.

I was so upset that I called up Leah, my gal Friday, and took her to lunch at the Ivy for some girl talk and a good cry over Salad Nicoise and Tanqueray gimlets.  Three or four rounds in, I was feeling better about the whole situation and the two of us were free associating ideas.  Sales are down on my retail empire at the moment and we need a new campaign.  We decided that we can make use of all the collapsed brick from Chateau Maine.  With every order of more than fifty dollars of Lesterene beauty products, VickiWear sportswear or Mrs. Norman Maine collector dollars, we’ll send you a bit of brick so you too can own a tiny sliver of my glamorous world.  We’re going to call it our Get A Piece of the Rock campaign.  And, if you order one of our special marvelous mother’s day packages, I will not only autograph the brick, but will also throw in a free pair of petit pants.

Leah and I were just starting to entertain the other patrons with a jazzy up tempo rendition of the Flower Duet from Lakme when the management arranged for an Uber ride for us back to the harbor for the boat.  When we got there, I fixed us yet another round and we decided we were in the mood for a raucous comedy.  Flipping through the selections, we found the 2014 film A Million Ways To Die In The West and, having heard that it was amongst the latest things for millennials, settled in to have a rollicking good time.  Unfortunately, we didn’t.  It may have been billed as a comedy but I don’t think I cracked even half a smile more than once or twice.

The film is something of a vanity project for Seth MacFarlane, the animator turned auteur responsible for such fare as Family Guy and American Dad who later came to major Hollywood attention with a vulgar little comedy about an irascible teddy bear that garnered a couple of gazillion dollars at the box office for little discernible reason, proving once again the old adage that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.  MacFarlane, somewhat of a fan of the classic westerns of the 50s and 60s, created a story about a lonely shepherd, Albert Stark (MacFarlane), living outside the town of Old Stump.  Albert is in the process of being dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfreid) and is consoled by his friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) who is having romantic difficulties of his own with his girlfriend, the prostitute Ruth (Sarah Silverman).  Albert wants something more from life and soon that enters his life when the evil outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) comes to town accompanied by the mysterious Anna (Charlize Theron).  His ex, Louise as meanwhile taken up with the foppish Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).  Eventually Albert and Anna find each other and through plotting, duels, one heck of a peyote trip courtesy of Cochise (Wes Studi), and other nonsensical complications, some are praised, some are punished and the audience wonders why they sat through two hours of this.

The film has numerous fatal qualities, most traceable to Seth MacFarlane.  The first is the writing.  The screenplay, courtesy of MacFarlane and writing partners Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, is all over the place.  At times, it tries to be a satire of the spaghetti western genre, at other times, it simply tries to squeeze in as many rude words and references as possible in a three-minute stretch of dialogue and it can never make up its mind if it is trying to be true to period or simply modern folk playing some sort of weird dress up.  MacFarlane’s inability to direct also doesn’t help.  He doesn’t know how to properly set up the sweeping vistas that give westerns their visual poetry and majesty and he’s always destroying his visual jokes by moving the camera at the wrong moment.  Then there’s MacFarlane the actor.  He’s pleasant enough looking but he’s not leading man material and far too light weight to carry a film.  Any time a real film actor such as Liam Neeson comes on screen, he fades into the background.

Fortunately, the film moves along at a quick enough pace that it’s never dull and there are a few outrageous comedy bits that actually work like a highly choreographed paean to the mustache that erupts toward the end of the second act.  However, for everything that works, there are a dozen moments that fall flat or are just embarrassing.  Poor Giovanni Ribisi, who is on the receiving end of Sarah Silverman’s patented foul mouthed girl shtick, looks like he wants to crawl off screen and into a hole.  Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris on the other hand, seem to know they’re in some sort of alternate universe and are just going to go with it and end up having fun and carry us along with them.  The most fun piece of the film is the number of cameos from well-known and uncredited performers sending up themselves and conventions of the genre.  Blink twice and you’ll miss Ewan MacGregor, Ryan Reynolds and best of all Jamie Foxx reprising his Django character.

The title is supposed to make us consider how hard life was on the frontier and various extras and minor characters meet vicious and bloody ends throughout the proceedings.  It gets to be a little much sometimes and could have been applied in subtler ways by a more talented film maker.  If the whole thing had been condensed down to an hour and animated, it might have made a reasonable very special episode of Family Guy but as a full length live action features, it’s all a little much and I cannot recommend it.

Shadow play. Sheep farm.  Gratuitous very special dancing waters fountain.  Carnival games.  Blowsy madam.  Rattlesnake venom.  Ice crushing. New bustle.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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