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A Million Ways To Die In The West

Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson

Here’s a simple concept: take the attitudes of an everyman from now and place him on the frontier in 1882. Let’s see how neurosis, self absorption and sensitivity stacks up against cholera, bar fights, gunslingers, rattlesnakes and the numerous other things that can spell a person’s end in A Million Ways To Die In The West.

Sensitive sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a man out of time. His wish to talk things out rather than get shot in a gunfight is seen as cowardice and his girlfriend dumps him for it. Now he must try and win his sweetheart back and the only real help he is getting is from a mysterious new woman in town, Anna (Charlize Theron), all the while avoiding the myriad of uncomfortable and sudden ways to die in the west, chief of which may be Anna’s murderous outlaw husband, Clinch (Liam Neeson).

For the many that have seen Seth MacFarlane’s previous work this should offer no surprises. The comedy is in a similar vein to his other creations like Family Guy and Ted. His style is crude, rude, low brow humour that will either make you howl with laughter or groan in despair. It’s a fairly scattershot approach that heads to extremes in the hopes of eliciting a laugh. Fortunately, A Million Ways To Die hits more often than it misses.

In part this is due to the fact that there is a good deal of comedy to be made from transcribing our views from the 21st century to an extreme version of the West. Between the ludicrous deaths and sheep penis jokes, there is actually some intelligent comedic fiction produced by the examination of attitudes, many of which are shocking to modern sensibilities. The concept of race is a major one, a fairly consistent shock tactic for MacFarlane and one that he skirts the line on again here – although, to be fair, it is something he subverts a number of times, instead making fun of the ignorance of the dominant culture.

MacFarlane gets good mileage out of the leading man gig. His dialogue seems natural for him as he is speaking in his own voice (he was also one of the screenwriters). Theron is a surprisingly good match here as a helping friend and their own screen chemistry appears relaxed and unforced. The rest of the cast is generally solid although perhaps underutilised (Neeson especially) and it is packed with some wonderful cameos.

Evocative of classic western films from the first notes of its opening theme to its climactic shoot out, A Million Ways To Die In The West firmly sinks its spurs into the genre. It might be an occasionally rocky ride that takes a little too long, but there are enough laughs to make it worthwhile.



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