You've got to give directer Seth MacFarlane credit. He follows up his riotous Ted (2012) with the difficult task of making a western comedy, A Million Ways to Die in the West in which MacFarlane co-wrote the screenplay, directs and stars. The reason why it's hard is that one western comedy casts a long shadow over the genre. I'm talking about Mel Brooks' legendary Blazing Saddles. (1974) That's some pretty big cowboy boots to fill.
It's 1882, in the western town of Old Stump, Arizona. MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, a meek sheep farmer. He loses his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried), after he shows cowardice in a gun fight. Meanwhile, criminal gunslinger Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) is searching for gold. He sends his wife, Anna (Charlize Theron) , to Old Stump. During a bar fight, Albert saves Anna. They become friends. She's a great shot and wants to help him with a duel, that Albert picks with Louise's new boyfriend, Foy. (Neil Patrick Harris)
One would expect coming from MacFarlane, the creator of not so pc comedy like Ted and The Family Guy tv series, a comedy that would rival the classic Blazing Saddles. Well, you're going to be disappointed in A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane has an easy charm but he's not Bob Hope in The Paleface. (1948) That's because MacFarlane brings to this movie a modern sensibility in language, the frequent dropping of the "F" bomb and bawdy sexual humor. The problem is that MacFarlane doesn't go far enough. If you're going to use modern language, then you might as well introduce actual modern ideas in the movie ala Blazing Saddles. Mel Brooks put Gucci, The Count Basie Band, racists, Nazis along with some other crazy things his movie. MacFarlane tends to try to straddle the fence by making a dirty joke then have majestic scenes of the west. I thought many times that his movie could have been made into a smaller, serious western.
Many times, the jokes fall flat due to execution. There's an adage in screenplay writing. Show don't tell. Many of the jokes are told by Albert (MacFarlane). That's good for a stand up comedy routine but this is a movie. For example, Albert tells Anna about one of the adventures of a sheep. It's funny but would have been hilarious if MacFarlane had written the scene by showing it in a flashback. There's another scene where Albert tells a joke to the townsfolk. I didn't get it until he turns to the camera and tells what the joke means. You know you're in trouble when you have to explain a joke.
A Million Ways to Die is sometimes funny but like MacFarlane's Albert often misses the target. I would wait for it on cable and home video. If you want your helping of MacFarlane, might I suggest watching Family Guy, Ted or the opening ceremony of the 85th Academy Awards (2013). The grade is C Plus.