A Million Ways to Die in the West elicits enough laughs from the viewer to be deemed a successful comedy, at least if one is a big fan of or can tolerate co-writer/director/actor Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor. The scatological jokes are more distasteful than funny, but the rest fare better—some of them much better. For instance, I really enjoyed the wittiness of Albert (MacFarlane), the protagonist, who happens to have a distinctly modern way of thinking and expressing himself. I also appreciated the smaller, unforced comedic moments, like the running joke about people not smiling in photographs, more than I did the majority of the in-your-face gags.
The film boasts several absolutely hilarious, wonderfully inspired cameo appearances. Two of them stand out as being particularly noteworthy: one involves mysterious electrical activity in a barn; the other takes place in the final scene and in the post-credits scene as well. Arguably, the cameos are the highlights of this amusing but largely ephemeral movie.
It might be tempting to call the whole or a certain part of the sequence featuring Native Americans (“Mila Kunis”, heh-heh!) pointless or unnecessary. I beg to differ. If nothing else, the sequence in question is integral to how the climactic shootout ends, in a manner that will not be spoiled here.
Clocking in at four minutes shy of two hours, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a little too long for its own good. The proceedings lose some steam about halfway through the story, although the film recovers in time for the finale.
Screenwriters MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild managed to create characters that the viewer genuinely cared about in Ted (2012), MacFarlane’s feature-film directorial debut. In the movie under consideration, however, the characters are stereotypes that are not as effortlessly likable. The stereotypical creations are no doubt an intentional choice by the filmmakers, but nothing interesting comes of them.
MacFarlane essentially plays a version of himself, for better or for worse. Charlize Theron delivers a winning performance in the role of Anna, and she and MacFarlane have very good chemistry together. As Louise, Amanda Seyfried unfortunately doesn’t get much of a chance to leave an impression on the viewer, but her acting is solid. Liam Neeson does a relatively serious turn as Clinch, the primary antagonist, whereas Neil Patrick Harris is gleefully over the top in the role of Foy, the secondary antagonist; both are fun to watch. Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman steal some scenes as Edward and Ruth, respectively, an odd but nice couple whose no-sex-before-marriage stance is an ongoing joke, considering Ruth’s profession.
Cinematographer Michael Barrett successfully captures the vastness and raw beauty of the landscape where the story is set. In any Western, nature should have an important role, almost like a supporting character, and that is certainly the case in A Million Ways to Die in the West. And what would a Western be without the particular kind of music that one generally associates with the genre? Fear not, for Joel McNeely’s musical score has all the qualities of a great classical Western score.