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Movie Beat: Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” offbeat but funny
by JENNIFFER WARDELL
May 30, 2014 | 1510 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
© Universal Pictures
© Universal Pictures
slideshow

Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material

Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and more

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and more

Grade: 

The problem with running into something supremely, gloriously odd is that even if you love it, you can't be sure anyone else will.

Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is, on one level, a classic Seth MacFarlane movie scattered with humor so infantile a six-year-old might find it immature. It's also an unabashed, love letter to every cowboy movie ever made, a pair of surprisingly sweet romances, and hilarious meta-analysis of the entire Western genre and why we're idiots for romanticizing it. In short, it's a Western, a parody of a Western, and the best DVD commentary of both you've ever heard all rolled into the same movie, which is everything I never knew I always wanted.

Though I could have done without quite so many dick jokes.

The story opens with MacFarlane's character backing down from a gunfight, not caring that everyone thinks he's a coward because he'd rather not die, thank you very much. MacFarlane makes the character sweet and refreshingly normal, faithfully upholding his role as the only sane man in a frontier full of crazy people. He's also got a warm, gentle chemistry with Charlize Theron's character, which makes their romance believable even though she's about a thousand miles out of his league. Their scenes together genuinely seem like two lonely people who are so pleased to have found someone who actually understands them.

The other couple involves another classic cowboy trope, the prostitute, though surprisingly she's paired with a guy who isn't intimidated or emasculated by her job. Giovanni Ribisi's character seems to view it more like any other dirty, unpleasant grunt work – sort of like janitorial duty – and the jokes that come from that acceptance are far funnier than the generic sex jokes that are also tossed in.

The best jokes, though, comes when MacFarlane's character simply lets himself rant about the West. The movie's title comes from one early riff about the fact that everything in the Old West was trying to kill the people, from malaria to the treatments the doctors tried to give you.

Then he goes outside and points out the mayor, who has been dead in the street for two days because the town is so used to violence and lawlessness that no one has thought to move him. To add insult to injury, this is when the coyotes show up and drag the corpse off. It's a logical extension of what daily life would be like in all those "lawless" towns, and both it and MacFarlane's bar fight protection strategy (he and Ribisi stand in the corner and pretend to punch each other) had me laughing so hard I cried.

There are also subtler moments than this, including a bit with Neal Patrick Harris who keeps insistently trying to finish a joke and not being allowed to and the "Mila Kunis" line from the trailer (which is far more clever when they actually include the subtitles). And the gunfight at the very end ranks as my favorite in any Western movie ever, serious or parody.

"A Million Ways To Die In the West," much like Seth MacFarlane's character, is far from perfect. But you'll never see anything like it, and it may end up being exactly what you were looking for.

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