Middle School Humor

A Million Ways to Die in the West

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            A Million Ways to Die in the West earned an R rating for drugs, sex, violence, prostitution, and functioning animal body parts – among other things. Sounds bad? Not really, because all of the above is wrapped in Middle School humor, the kind kids try out before acquiring the grand sophistication of their high school years.
            The movie is the self-indulgent undertaking of one man: Seth MacFarlane, who wrote, starred, directed, and is on screen nearly all the time. There are two themes here: a take-off on the long ago Westerns of the ‘60s, and bathroom humor - the bodily fluids kind of thing that usually comes from a drinker at a cocktail party who thinks he’s being very funny. MacFarlane is more successful when he’s spoofing the old Westerns than he is at mining vulgarity for hilarity.
            Albert (MacFarlane) is a nerdish sheep farmer who considers the West “a disgusting cesspool of despair.” The place is filthy, he says - full of rattlesnakes, and “people who want to kill you.” He’s right. It’s full of death - both deliberate and accidental. And then there’s the matter of the politically incorrect references to Indians, Christians, Asians, Muslims, Blacks, Jews, Methodists, ranchers, and prostitutes. Equal opportunity insult all around.
            MacFarlane packages the Western clichés in comic violence: the saloon that explodes into exaggerated murderous mayhem when someone is insulted, a man lying dead in the street for three days while no one notices. There are a few good laugh out loud moments – the neglected, unshorn sheep barreling into the barn door because he can’t see through his wool, sheep doing a marvelous dance in the drug soaked imagination of our hero.
            We meet Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), desperado of the West who kills on impulse, Anna (Charlize Theron), Clinch’s sharpshooter wife who falls in love with Albert, and Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the fop who steals Louise (Amanda Seyfried), Albert’s girlfriend.
            If you are saying by now that you refuse to endure the vulgarity, consider a few specific pleasures: Ruth (a deadpan Sarah Silverman), is a prostitute who plies her trade full time upstairs while Edward (Giovani Ribisi), the love of her life waits for her downstairs holding a bouquet of flowers for their evening date. Living in sublime denial, Edward and Ruth generate laughter whenever they appear, which is often. The unfortunate truth is that Seth MacFarlane just doesn’t deliver enough fireworks to hold our interest for long in a comedy built on random incidents. .
            All the action in this story that unfolds in 1882 is delivered in thoroughly modern dialogue (“I have to leave to find myself”), a thread that is consistently funny. This is the old Wild West told in modern language but swathed in infantile humor. It is an awful movie punctuated now and then by funny hijinks. Seth MacFarlane had a great spoof in his hands until he ran it through the bathroom.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Million Ways to Die in the West
Word count : 492
Studio : Universal Pictures
Running time : 1:55
Rating : R

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