The “R” rated comedy has become a staple of late in the studio fares that command the summer box office. Rightfully so after hits like 21 Jump Street, most Judd Apatow movies, and Ted have brought in as much money as the usual summer tentpoles. The last movie, written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, even managed to bring in $200 million domestically and $500 million internationally. MacFarlane moves from voicing the teddy bear that led Ted to coming out front and center in his latest, A Million Ways to Die in the West. But after a long line of very similar jokes and punch lines that just don’t work, the movie feels like a step back from the “R” rated movies that have been challenging the norm of studio comedies.
A Million Ways to Die in the West opens in a traditional western way, showing off MacFarlane’s appreciation and clear knowledge of the genre. But instead of satirizing the genre like Blazing Saddles, MacFarlane instead interjects modern language and vulgarity into the background of the Old West. The story follows Albert (MacFarlane), a cowardly farmer who has just lost the love of his life in Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the more manly Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). But Albert gets help from Anna (Charlize Theron) who comes into town and decides to help the farmer after he saves her life in a fight.
MacFarlane does carry a strong presence in the leading role and seemed able to lead a movie, let alone a summer blockbuster, on his own. But where A Million Ways to Die goes wrong is in its length and lack of consistency in the script. The jokes, while funny initially, are played out over and over again as if they think we forgot about laughing at it previously. That and the fact that most aren’t even that funny makes the movie feel excruciatingly long.
The problem that MacFarlane has with both of his comedies so far is the lack of layered storytelling in the script. In Ted, the problem wasn’t as glaring because his jokes were fresher and it had more of a consistency to it. But in this movie, because the jokes weren’t always good, the vital flaws that the story had became a glaring issue. While another comedy this summer, Neighbors, seemed to waste the potential it had with its story of giving us a hilarious look at the fears of growing up and starting your life, it seems like MacFarlane seems uninterested in trying to layer his movies with any commentary that he may want to convey. Not saying that he has to, but a guy who has shown through his other programs (Family Guy, American Dad, etc.) to have an extensive knowledge of pop culture and what is happening now, it just seems like a waste just to throw up fart joke after fart joke without any real finishing line.
The talent is there and while some of the cast feels wasted (a against cast Neeson and Harris doing anything), it feels like a missed opportunity and an effort that should be under MacFarlane. The guy is witty and clever and has shown before that he can craft an enjoyable, smart comedy but this seems like a step back for him. I like his work and will probably check out his next effort but he needs something more fresh and smart than the utterly stupid effort here.
A Million Ways to Die in the West isn’t the worst thing out there by a long shot but it is a tireless and long product that could wait to just grace your DVD player rather than bringing you to the theater. MacFarlane is funny and it has its moments but the consistency and freshness of Ted is replaced by bland and repeated jokes that waste a solid idea.