Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Produced by: Seth MacFarlane
Screenplay by: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane
Neil Patrick Harris
Narrated by: Rex Linn
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cinematography by: Michael Barrett
Editing by: Jeff Freeman
Studio(s): Media Rights Capital
Fuzzy Door Productions
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: May 30, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)
Running time: 116 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $40 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $30, 589, 875
Aloha there, still haven't gotten to see X-Men: Days Of Future Past (typical of me, eh?), but with most of the week off work, I imagine I shall be getting to see it at some point. Also, there's a glut of new releases in the past week or so, such as Maleficent, Edge Of Tomorrow and Blended, so keep an eye out for more reviews to be posted. On another topic, I would like to make mention that I just finished the video game L.A. Noire, a game whose development has been followed by the taint of a development cycle not dissimilar to that of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, only this project took longer, but with the collective efforts of Brendan McNamara's Team Bondi and Rockstar produced a work of a quality akin to Coppola's 1979 masterwork. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies (and more), keep your eyes posted!
Today's film up for review is A Million Ways To Die In The West, the second live-action film "from the guy who brought you Ted," Seth MacFarlane. Incidentally, that's something I've disliked for a long time in the marketing of contemporary comedies, "from the guy" or "guys," as though to say "hey, they're bros, they're lads, they're a bunch of innocuous dudes who like to talk about boobs just like a rest of us (you're not fooling me!)." Anyway, I'm fond Seth MacFarlane, who after Family Guy and American Dad, made a successful transition into the film world with said Ted, a raucous hoot of a comedy. The basis for this film emerged from a joke between MacFarlane and writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, "riffing on the idea of how dull, depressing and dangerous it must have been to live in the Wild West." Okay, so, synopsis time: it's 1882, Arizona, and Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), a sheep farmer who turns down any confrontation that comes his way, is down on his luck when his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for a wealthy businessman by the name of Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who earns his bread running a 'moustachery.' Enter the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), whose band of outlaws split into two camps on his orders, with his wife Anna Barnes (Charlize Theron) heading to the town of Old Stump in which the film is set. In the wake of his breakup with Louise, Albert becomes good friends with Anna, who sets to restoring his confidence before a prospective duel with Foy. Got it? Good!
Starting off with what's done right here, I have to compliment MacFarlane to some extent. He is quite clearly a man of ideas trying to something original while also making a sort-of throwback/homage to the western genre. It's full of genuinely interesting references beyond name-recognition value of the Friedberg and Seltzer variety, and is obviously a well-researched movie done by someone who clearly has a passion for what he is doing. Speaking of ideas, from a conceptual standpoint it works well, given that most westerns made in the past ten-fifteen years are uber-serious or at the very least steeped in melancholia. The fact that someone has tried take this from a comedic standpoint is initially refreshing. Also, the knack for dialogue that MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild bring to the table does lead for a couple of gags. MacFarlane must be well-liked within the acting community, because he has managed to bring together a cast that on names alone ring credibility. You've got the likes of Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson pulling together decent performances, and comedic stalwarts Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi do their best to sink their teeth into their characters. The final thing I'd like to say that's good about it that it is well shot by cinematographer Michael Barrett, who has given the picture a nice crisp sheen that is easy on the eyes.
I hope that doesn't sound like I was just writing filler, trying to find things that I liked about the film. It's just that while I would say that there are things I admired about, for the most part I found it a problematic and dull experience as a film. As mentioned, I like Seth MacFarlane, but A Million Ways To Die In The West is a misfire on several fronts. Firstly, the film doesn't seem to extend beyond the parameters of it's base concept. I can deal with loose and simplistic narratives, but here there isn't much in the way of development whatsoever. We've seen these characters many's a time before, and the story itself doesn't move in any direction that would lead me to stay overly engaged. Even with the dialogue, the film's 'strongpoint,' it gets incredibly repetitious, with all oddities and eccentricities being explained off with lame recycled statements along the lines of "oh well, it's the West, this is how things happen." Secondly, MacFarlane's live-action debut as an actor failed to convince me. From a visual standpoint he doesn't fit into the film, in that it's like someone has photoshopped him into a photograph of 1880's Arizona. Also, his onscreen persona comes across as something between a Jimmy Stewart everyman and the awkward, mildly eccentric berk with a couple of neuroses that Woody Allen successfully portrayed for years, but MacFarlane doesn't do either right. His Average Joe comes across as forced and wooden, and the Funny Guy stuff, mixed the dialogue on the page, comes across too much as just a couple of musings and observations. This might have worked for a stand-up gig, but there is no additional clarity to tie this into film's story in any way. Incidentally, Amanda Seyfried is wasted in a part that could have just been written in for any pretty face and not an actor as talented as she is. Another thing that I didn't like about the film was the music. Yes, this is the first appearance of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra in 2014, but I think the use of the term is rather fitting in this case. Composer Joel McNeely has worked on MacFarlane's American Dad! and a glut of Disney direct-to-DVD productions, but has also conducted re-recordings of the works of Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman and John Barry, so he's a composer in the same vein as MacFarlane is as a director, someone who respects the achievements of those before him. However, McNeely's throwback score is not so much a parody in that it ends becoming a parody of itself, with the histrionics that the film is full of sounding wholly ridiculous and over the top at various points. Then it has the gall to underscore the histrionics with the most saccharine and artificial "feel music," conveying rather bluntly to the audience the message that "this is where you're supposed to feel for the characters" and I'm going "nope!"
Don't get me wrong, I don't think that A Million Ways To Die In The West is all bad. Indeed, I don't even think it can be called a 'bad movie.' I do think that there are things to admire in the movie, such as the fact that Seth MacFarlane and co do at least have a couple of bright ideas and are trying to something different than much of the contemporary generic dribble we get subjected to under the name of 'comedy.' It also features a game cast delivering (for the most part) decent performances which, though hardly a notch on their belts, aren't something to be embarrassed with, and it is a well-shot movie by Michael Barrett. A Million Ways To Die In The West is however a misfire on the part of Seth MacFarlane. He fails to light the screen on fire with a second-rate Average Joe/Jimmy Stewart by way of Neurotic Jabbering Baboon/Woody Allen act, and the script by he, Sulkin and Wild, though conceptually strong, has does not follow through on the base ideas, only for a couple of stand-up gags or faint amusement while draped over a barstool on a pint or few. Amanda Seyfried is wasted and Joel McNeely's score, instead of elevating the film, ends up undercutting and becoming a self-parody of the whole thing. Not a bad movie, but a poor misfire.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.4/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sweet