A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

A Million Ways to Die in the West was released in the wake of the success of Seth MacFarlane’s previous live-action film, Ted. This latest outing, a crude send-up of movie westerns, is not only directed, produced, and written by MacFarlane, he’s also given himself the lead role as a character who’s fought over by Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron.

This movie was likely pitched to execs as, “Seth MacFarlane does everything in his power to overcome the Griffins’ shadow,” and while he certainly mugs at the camera enough to grab our attention, he doesn’t make us laugh enough to keep it. Aside from MacFarlane, Seyfried, and Theron, the film features (and wastes) a talented cast including Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, and Giovanni Ribisi.

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The film begins in 1882 in the town of Old Stump, Arizona, where sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) chickens out of a duel, and subsequently loses the affections of his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried).

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Albert confides in his friends Edward (Ribisi) and Ruth (Silverman) about his heartbreak, after making the first of numerous jokes about how people never smiled in old photographs. We also get the beginnings of another running gag when we find out Ruth is a whore working in an actual whorehouse, who graphically describes what she does on the job to her boyfriend Edward but still refuses to have sex with him.

Meanwhile, outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson) flees from a robbery, and has one of his men take his wife Anna (Theron) to Old Stump and hide her away while he does his outlaw stuff. They go to a saloon, where a huge bar fight breaks out, and Albert saves Anna from being injured by a couple of brawlers. Anna’s bodyguard is arrested, Albert and Anna quickly bond, and after a few moonlit conversations where they talk about how much it sucks to live in the Old West, they attend the county fair and run into Louise and her new man, the mustachioed Foy (Harris).

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Albert and Foy have a contest where they shoot at a racist “Escaped Slave” duck hunt game, and Albert loses. But then Anna steps up and challenges Foy, and reveals herself to be quite the sharpshooter. Foy is angered by being shown up by a woman, and challenges Albert to a duel. On his way home, Albert sees lights coming from a barn, and peeks in for a throwaway gag where Christopher Lloyd cameos as Doc Brown circa Back to the Future III, working on the DeLorean.

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Anna then tries to teach Albert how to shoot, but it’s basically hopeless. They then go to a square dance, where Bill Maher cameos as a standup comic and Foy and several men do a big musical number about how great it is to have a mustache.

Later, Anna pours a laxative into Foy’s drink, which causes him to have extreme diarrhea just before the duel. Foy recovers, but Albert once again backs out of the duel. Unfortunately for him, Clinch arrives in town and hears of Anna’s unfaithfulness, and he challenges Albert to, you guessed it, another duel. 

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Anna then runs away from Clinch and back to Albert’s sheep farm. Clinch comes after them, and while trying to escape, Albert gets captured by Indians. They’re about to burn him at the stake, but he impresses Chief Cochise (Wes Studi) by showing that he knows their language (all made-up gibberish, of course), so they offer him peyote as a gift. 

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

During the peyote trip, we get lots of random, absurd CGI imagery in lieu of actual jokes, but eventually it makes Albert realize that Anna is the woman he’s destined to marry, and it’s up to him to save her from Clinch’s clinches. When it’s time for the duel, Albert shoots Clinch, but only grazes him. But then he explains that the bullet was laced with poisonous snake venom. Clinch dies and an impressed Louise wants to take him back, but he’s in love with Anna now, the end.

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Oh, and for one final throwaway cameo, Jamie Foxx appears as Django, showing up at the county fair to shoot the owner of the “Escaped Slave” game.

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

My appreciation for Seth MacFarlane is often conflicted: on one hand, he has talent and can create truly funny scenes. Some Family Guy sketches are still hilarious to me, and he’s a great voice actor. On the other hand, he generates a lot of output without ever really doing anything different. Even though this film takes place in the Wild West, a totally new and different setting for MacFarlane, he mostly just copies and pastes his usual jokes, making this another faded version of everything he’s done before.

I don’t necessarily mind if a comedian does the same thing each time. Many comics find a rhythm that works for them, and they smartly choose to stick with it instead of trying everything under the sun. But MacFarlane is essentially at the point of repeating the same old nasty gags, apparently just for the sake of nastiness. 

Nastiness can work in a film, and the best of the Farrelly Brothers proves this. However, it needs some sort of emotional grounding to work. While few can truly identify with the characters of Dumb and Dumber, many can relate to the fear of having a loud digestive episode at your dream date’s house. MacFarlane fails to provide a similar sort of grounding or humanity to his jokes, making them hollow and unfunny. Excrement isn’t funny in and of itself, and neither is Sarah Silverman with fake jizz on her face. It’s like someone saw Ted and decided what it was really missing was a ton of fart and shit jokes.

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

Of course, anyone seeing this knows what they’re getting into, and I doubt any of MacFarlane’s fans were expecting anything more than some cheap laughs. Unfortunately, the movie only provides a handful of funny moments, and that’s not enough to carry the film. The jokes often fall flat, not only because they aren’t written well, but because of MacFarlane’s terrible acting. He’s the kind of performer who comes off much better when he’s doing animation. And also, when he has a decent script. 

The scenes that maybe have a tinge of humor, like where characters complain about how horrible life is in the West, are ruined by his smirky, smug performance. It’s tiring, and the lack of strong jokes makes the whole film a mess. What it all amounts to is MacFarlane mugging like crazy in response to bodily fluids and boring slapstick violence, and way too many near-dramatic scenes that don’t even attempt to be humorous. Not even the cameos from Christopher Lloyd or Jamie Foxx or Gilbert Gottfried (as Abraham Lincoln) or Ryan Reynolds (as… himself?) can save the film.

A Million Ways (for jokes) to Die in the West (2014)

The film is like a live-action Family Guy in a lot of ways (which could have been funny), but it misses the mark with stale direction, a poorly-cast lead, and an all-around tired script. Frankly, this film could be renamed A Million Ways to Tell the Same Joke.

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  • NixEclips

    God McFarlanes’ constant effing mugging really destroyed this movie.

  • RockyDmoney

    The problem with MacFarlane I think, is that he has no respect for his fans or his audience. He thinks they are all a bunch of idiot 14 year olds who will just laugh at poop and fart jokes and the stupid pop culture references.

    • Sardu

      And they aren’t?

    • Premonition_45

      Another problem is he doesn’t know when to stop telling a joke. It’s like he went to the Mike Myers School of Comedy.

  • Thomas Stockel

    If people want to see a good Western comedy they should just watch Blazing Saddles, or the lesser known but still very funny and under rated Rustler’s Rhapsody, which pokes fun at just about every single Western trope and cliche. The scene where the traditional Western villain meets the Spaghetti Western villain is priceless.

    • Joel Schlosberg

      Or West and Soda.

    • E.Buzz Miller

      The two Bob Hope Paleface movies are good too, same with
      Support Your Local Sheriff.

      • That One Guy

        And here I was starting to think that I was the only one in this day and age who saw those movies.

  • maarvarq

    Personally, I thought even Family Guy should have stayed cancelled. Nothing I ever saw in the revived show was as funny as in the first three seasons. There was no way I was ever going to see this movie, and you’ve just confirmed my judgement.

  • Immortan Scott

    Unlike children, Seth MacFarlane should be heard and not seen.

    One positive thing about this movie: there’s absolutely no way it can’t not be better than that Western comedy Adam Sandler is making for Netflix.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Well, I liked it, but I’ll admit it was way too long…

  • Alexa

    I have to admit I have not seen it, but that Back to the Future reference and cameo by Jaime Foxx sounds funny…

    • MichaelANovelli

      The Django bit is the funnier of the two.

  • Murry Chang

    My parents love this film. I chock it up to the fact that they don’t have a decade of Family Guy under their belts like the rest of us…

  • The_Stig

    I’m surprised they didn’t give his ego top billing.

  • Greenhornet

    I first saw the trailer for this on You-Tube. They opened with a couple of deaths, said the title and then a character comments how people keep dying at the county fair. I thought “Oh, someone saw a fan video of ‘funny deaths in Red Dead Redemption’ and thought it would make a good movie”. That sounded stupid, but I watched the rest of the trailer.
    They then cut to the ANTIQUE plot of “there’s a scary bad guy and only the inept amateur can save us” and I was rolling my eyes so hard it hurt.
    Why is it that the idiot hero has to be taught by someone who is COMPETENT and could easily do the job himself (Or herself)? Or better yet, call in every willing citizen to shoot, or just beat up, the villain. Imagine how much better High Noon would have been if the bad guy and his partners had been blown away by a pair of dance hall girls with shotguns while “the hero” was still wrestling with his fears.
    This movie gets an “EH” out of “MEH”.

  • Moppet

    I barely got past the ‘almost’ gun fight at the beginning, and then shut it off during with the guy waiting downstairs holding the flowers. I couldn’t ever talk about this movie at length as a result. I can only convey how unable I was to continue watching it. I pity anyone that had to continue to sit through the rest.