Saturday, May 31, 2014
A Million Ways to Die in the West
I've not seen "Ted", I don't care for "Family Guy" and I thought his hosting of the Academy Awards was probably not appropriate. That does not mean I don't think Seth Macfarlane is funny, there are a lot of things about this movie that are amusing. I think that in limited doses and with some strong story telling, he could have made this a classic comedy that will be laughed at by audiences for years. As it is, it feels a little tired about halfway through and it fails to take full advantage of some of it's assets.
Let me start by mentioning a couple of things that worked really well for me, the songs and Charlieze Theron. The title song is actually sung over the end credits and it was funny as heck without descending to some of the sad punchlines the rest of the movie relied on. It was the one element that reminded me of "Blazing Saddles". The other song in the movie that also worked well was a dance number that did give Neil Patrick Harris the chance to show off some of his talent. It was a reworking of a Steven Foster song, so while not completely original, I know that the lyrics have been juiced up a bit by the screenwriters.
Charlieze is the one performer who seems to be trying to play a character in a story. Everyone else is mostly mugging for the camera, she plays sweet, and tough and winsome all at once. Even when she is doing comedy shtick, she still seems like a real person. Maybe not always an 1882 person, but not just a joke on two legs. MacFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, and even Liam Neeson, are camping it up for the camera. Silverman especially, because her part is the broadest and most risque, plays it like a live action cartoon character. After getting the great dance scene, Harris is subjected to a remake of a scene from "Dumb and Dumber" and "Bridesmaids" and it feels tired and the visual punch is for shock value only.
Part of the problem is too much of the premise is given away in the title and the trailers. We are constantly on the lookout and waiting for the next horrifying thing to happen. Instead of being surprised, we are anticipating and the lack of payoff can probably be lain at the feet of the marketing department. Rapid jokes and punchlines are fine, I loved "Airplane!" and it's successors. Here it was just more redundant than it needed to be. I think a lot of the humor relies on being politically incorrect, but that is as far as it goes. When Mel Brooks or Richard Pryor made a joke about race or religion, it was in aid of a bigger laugh, it was not the laugh itself. So much of what MacFarlane does just feels like poking the bear for the sake of getting a rise out of him.
I enjoyed seeing several cameo appearances in the movie, but I also liked seeing several familiar actors from television and movies show up in smaller parts. Matt Clark has been making movies since the 1960s and he has a nice part as a grizzled prospector in this film. He has appeared in several Clint Eastwood Westerns, at least one John Wayne film and several TV westerns. The movie needed a few more references to those roots rather than just the contemporary stunt casting used for quick visual jokes. This movie was entertaining but not special enough to make it essential repeat viewing. I don't know that there are in fact a million ways to die in the west, but I do know that there are a million ways to make a potty joke, and this movie uses about half of them.