A Million Ways to Die in the West review

When Seth MacFarlane began collaborating with Neil deGrasse Tyson for his reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, critics and fans alike were flabbergasted that MacFarlane could so comfortably transition from the lowbrow antics of Family Guy and Ted to becoming a titan of the mind.  Similarly, his sophomore live-action feature-length effort, the western spoof A Million Ways to Die in the West, is hardly sophomoric, gradually revealing itself to be the closest thing to Blazing Saddles that Generation Y could hope to claim. True, MacFarlane’s penchant for toilet humor can cause one to forget how groundbreaking Mel Brooks’ campfire scene was in 1974, and his Native Americans speak in name-droppings of celebrities and MacFarlane collaborators like Mila Kunis instead of Yiddish slurs, but the unapologetic and uproarious black comedy of A Million Ways to Die in the West causes it to easily live up to—and exceed—its title.

A Million Ways is set in a quaint Arizona town too sleepy to acknowledge that its close-knit population is quickly dying off from everything from incompetent doctors to faulty outhouses, a reality that lowly sheepherder Albert (MacFarlane) is all too eager to point out. Unfortunately for him, Albert possesses few other skills with his inability to organize his sheep or fire a gun respectively, keeping him from moving out of his parents’ house and causing him to lose his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to mustachioed dueler Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the town’s only resident with a dollar to his name. In order to outfight Foy, Albert seeks the assistance of breathtaking town newcomer and gunslinging prodigy Anna (Charlize Theron), whose shooting prowess is only eclipsed by a troubling fact she neglects to inform Albert—that she is married to the deadliest outlaw in the West, Clinch Leatherfoot (Liam Neeson). Rounding out the film’s ensemble cast are Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi as a hypocritically evangelical Christian prostitute and her cuckolded missionary boyfriend.

While MacFarlane’s trademark “cutaway gags” are noticeably absent in lieu of a cohesive plot, A Million Ways features a plethora of pop cultural references, including cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Foxx reprising a pair of their best-loved roles (hint: they aren’t Uncle Fester and Ray Charles), and moviegoers with a keen ear will pick up on the soundtrack’s teasing of the themes to not only Blazing Saddles but Back to the Future as well.

A Million Ways could have done without a few of its gags, including ex-lax and Alice B. Toklas cookie bits that have been done to death (no pun intended) and an insufferable 10 seconds of Gilbert Gottfried impersonating Abraham Lincoln, but overall its imperfections are few and far between. Its irreverent and sometimes morbid humor may not win over everyone, but like it or not, it’s further proof that Seth MacFarlane’s media empire is here to stay, and I for one welcome this comedic overlord.

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