To me, few things are as purely “hit-and-miss” as the humour of Seth MacFarlane. I haven’t seen Ted, but I did enjoy most of his Oscars show in 2013 and his famous animated sitcom Family Guy, though not as spot-on satirical or cleverly deranged as South Park, can still be good for a sadistic laugh every now and then. And of course, not many things are up to par with Larry & Steve.
But A Million Ways To Die In The West is one of those times when I truly must question if MacFarlane is actually all that funny. It’s a Western spoof where the production design is the only thing cheaper than the comedy. If I told you that one of the first gags we see in the official trailer involves feces, I’m sure you can see the class this is aiming for. If that doesn’t sell you, the rest of said trailer involves comical violence, sexual references and jokes about flatulence. Exquisite.
The year is 1882. In the town of Old Stump, Arizona, MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer with no guts to speak of. He’s so cowardly in fact that his girlfriend, played by Amanda Seyfried, leaves him and he doesn’t even agree to partake in an obligatory Western duel. It’s no worries, though, since MacFarlane writes in another attractive woman for himself to enjoy; enter Charlize Theron as Anna, the wife of ruthless, gun-slinging bandit Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). The latter eventually comes to the town of Old Stump and needless to say, things go down. Both in terms of action, overly bloody slapstick scenes and jokes about vaginas.
First of all, though, Albert and Anna have to bond over scenes where Albert simultaneously learns to be tougher and more self-confident and such. While this supposedly romantic stuff goes on, Amanda Seyfried’s character gets together with a local rich bloke played by Neil Patrick Harris, just so we can employ some rom-com plot points later on and have ourselves a “rivaling couples” subplot like in New Year’s Eve or some junk like that. There’s also Giovanni Ribisi as Albert’s friend Edward, who has never seen a naked woman, and Sarah Silverman as Ruth, Edward’s girlfriend who’s a prostitute. You figure it out.
The film’s reputation precedes it. Critics have already berated it a sufficient amount for its low-brow toilet/sex humour, offensive comedy that needs less “offensive” and more “comedy”, and characters that don’t work, especially the female ones, they say. Some call it sexist but I would concur with another critic’s theory that Seth’s inability to write women is less due to misogyny and more due to his inability to write people in general. I’m probably more worried about the movie’s occasional unfunny racial stereotypes than I am about the portrayal of women here. I will say, however, that Albert’s luck with what most of society would regard as attractive female humans is something extraordinary. It’s almost as if the guy who plays him wrote the script from a mildly horny fantasy of his.
I’ve said in the past that not all types of comedy need to feature completely relatable or realistic characters. Movies like Top Secret! work not because you feel for the characters, but because they’re all as quirky and bizarre as the universe they inhabit. This movie isn’t set in that kind of world and so it instead tells a story about a guy we’re meant to like and feel something for. If you’re making a comedy with genuine heart, you need to have the art of writing characters down. I’d advice that you watch The World’s End with a notebook close at hand.
In case you haven’t guessed, A Million Ways To Botch Comedy is not a very good movie. Can you laugh at it? Sure you can. You can laugh at just about any comedy film if you’re tired, drunk or just don’t care. Me, I sometimes do not care. Sometimes I will watch a film like this just to chuckle mindlessly at a series of mediocre gags that serve no purpose other than making the squeamish uncomfortable and the deliberately offensive Internet trolls delighted. But normally I do care about the genuine quality of a film so pardon me while I stick to the works of the gentlemen who directed Airplane! (excluding most of the spoofs they’ve made since then).
So, am I then recommending A Million Ways To Die In The West? Perhaps I am to some. There’s always going to be people who want little more than to laugh at immature potty humour and jokes that try to be edgy by being as pointlessly vulgar as possible. I’m sure they won’t mind the fact that everything else is either poorly written or so cheap-looking that even the opening credits look like an Adobe Premiere creation. Y’know, suddenly I feel like getting back to making videos.
On a final note, I will give some props to the film’s music department. We all know MacFarlane is a musical guy and watching this movie I remember how much I’d rather he made a silent film with music composed by himself at some point. Provided he doesn’t water it down with more penis jokes.