A Million Ways to Die in the West

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1882, in the town of Old Stump, Arizona, a cowardly sheep farmer named Albert Stark is dumped by his beloved girlfriend Louise as a result of his withdrawal from a duel. He prepares to leave for San Francisco, believing that the frontier holds nothing for him. Meanwhile, infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood robs and kills an old prospector for a nugget of gold. He orders one of his men, Lewis, to escort his wife Anna to Old Stump to lie low while he continues his banditry. Lewis and Anna arrive in Old Stump under the guise of two siblings intending to build a farm, but Lewis is arrested after shooting a man in a saloon. During the ensuing brawl, Albert saves Anna from being crushed by two of the brawlers and the two form a friendship. They attend a county fair at which Louise’s new boyfriend, the foppish Foy, challenges Albert to a shooting contest. Albert is defeated, but Anna steps up and defeats Foy. Foy insults Albert, who angrily challenges Foy to a duel in a week’s time.

Anna teaches Albert how to shoot. During a barn dance the night before the duel, Anna slips Foy a Mickey. After leaving the dance, Albert and Anna kiss before heading home. Upon breaking out of jail and murdering the sheriff, Lewis sees the kiss and reports it to Clinch. On the day of the duel, Foy arrives late and goes into convulsions due to the laxative he had unknowingly imbibed. Albert, who has decided that Louise is not worth the trouble, once again forfeits the duel. He retires to the saloon, but Clinch arrives and demands to know who kissed his wife. When no one comes forward, Clinch shoots a nearby cowboy. He reveals that Anna is his wife and threatens to continue killing unless his wife’s lover duels him at noon the next day. Clinch later compels Anna to reveal Albert’s name and then prepares to have sex with her, but she knocks him unconscious and escapes.

Anna returns to Albert’s farm where he confronts her. Clinch pursues Anna to the farm and recaptures her, but Albert escapes. While fleeing, he is captured by a tribe of Indians who threaten to burn him to death. The Indians spare him when he reveals that he can speak their language. They give him a bowl of peyote, which sends him flashing back to his birth and through traumatic events of his childhood before making him realize that he loves Anna. Albert returns to Old Stump and confronts Clinch. He wounds Clinch with a bullet poisoned with rattlesnake venom before having his own gun shot out of his hand, but manages to stall until Clinch lethally succumbs to the poison. Louise attempts to win back Albert, but he rejects her and instead enters a relationship with Anna. Albert also receives a bounty for killing Clinch and uses the money to buy more sheep.

At the fair, the proprietor of a racially charged shooting game asks who would like to take a shot. Django Freeman steps up and shoots the man while commenting that a lot of people die at the fair.

REVIEW:

If you know anything about the old west, then you are more than aware of the plenitude of dangers that awaited anyone living our there during those hard times. The title, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is an allusion to that, but does the film represent the varying ways one can meet their end, or is it just a title that supposedly sounds good?

What is this about?

After backing out of a duel and losing his girlfriend, sheep farmer Albert slowly rebuilds his self-respect with the help of a married woman. But Albert’s new solidity is put to the test when the woman’s criminal husband rides into town.

What did I like?

Subject matter. I think we all have a certain period in time that we are all fascinated with, be in Medieval times, the 80s, the Swing/WWII era, the Disco era, etc. For Seth McFarlane, it appears he has an affinity for the old west, as this film is a love letter to not only the great movies based on that period of American history, but also the actual events and way of life people endured. On top of that, this is a comedy. To my knowledge, I don’t believe there has been a comedy about the west since Blazing Saddles, so kudos to McFarlane for bringing something back to the table.

Specific set of skills. Liam Neeson seems to have become pigeon-holed as an action hero here in the last few years. I say this because in every film he’s done since the original Taken, he has been playing a version of the same guy, and of course in The A-Team, he was just a bad ass! I think what we’ve all forgotten, though, is that Neeson is a highly capable actor with great range…and he’s Irish. With this role, he was able to not only remind us of his natural accent, but also have some fun playing the bad guy for once. It was a nice change of pace for him because, from what I hear, in his last couple of films he has just been looking bored with doing the same stuff over and over again.

Supporting cast (and cameos). Say what you will about Seth McFarlane, the guy known how to bring in some talent. Think about how many big names have guest starred on Family Guy, American Dad, and even The Cleveland Show. Also, this is a guy that was able to get permission from George Lucas to do those Star Wars specials, which was no easy feat. So, it should come as no surprise that he was able to land a great supporting cast for this film, each bringing something special to the table, be it as a rival for McFarlane’s character, comic relief, or what have you. Also, there are a couple of cameos. I won’t spoil them, but when you see them you’ll be giddy as a school girl. They are totally out of place, but are nice just the same.

What didn’t I like?

Racist. With Seth McFarlane’s brand of humor, he usually inserts a race joke or two in just to spice things up. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. However, I do have an issue when you have a blatant racist machine that has the customer shooting runaway slaves, who are eating watermelon, btw. Also, in the barn dance scene, when talking to Charlize Theron’s character about her bustle, he makes an off-hand joke that alludes to the notion that black guys like big butts. Granted, the second one is more of a stereotype, but I don’t believe either of these should have even been thought of as funny, let alone filmed, even if the machine gets its comeuppance by a certain cameo at the end of the film.

Extended Family Guy. I can’t help but feel that this was initially written as a special episode of Family Guy. It has that vibe to it. McFarlane just probably thought it was such a brilliant ideas that it needed to be brought to the big screen. I will give him that. This is a good idea, in concept, but the execution is lacking. I was half expecting there to be cutaways in some of these scenes. Perhaps it would have done better as an episode, rather than a film.

Go East, young man! For someone who says they love the west so much, McFarlane sure doesn’t waste any time criticizing it. As a matter of fact, every chance he gets, he makes it a point to have his character say bad things about the west, killing any illusion that we may have, despite knowing the truth. For me, I wasn’t a fan. The Old West, as we see in the movies, is a fantasy and should be kept that way. McFarlane’s cynical diatribes in this film were nothing more than someone wanting to ruin other people’s fun, to put it simply. Given the title, maybe some narration early on with said diatribe would have worked, but even that would’ve been pushing it, in my opinion.

I have mixed feeling about A Million Way to Die in the West. On the one hand, it gets points for being a western comedy. That joke about Amanda Seyfried’s eyes was priceless. Why wasn’t she cast in Big Eyes, again? On the other hand, a good majority of this film just seems to be petty and cruel toward the west and the story muddles along until the next big joke happens. All in all, though, I had a decent time watching, but I don’t think I can recommend this as something anyone needs to watch.

3 1/4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

  1. […] boring. Do I recommend it? No, if you’re in the mood for a comedy western, go watch A Million Ways to Die in the West. It isn’t that much better than this, but at least it doesn’t feel lazily slapped […]

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