'A Million Ways to Die in the West': What the Critics Are Saying

5:30 AM PST 05/30/2014 by Ashley Lee

Seth MacFarlane directs and stars in the Western comedy, also featuring Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson.

A Million Ways to Die in the West, out Friday, is co-written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, who also stars in the R-rated Western comedy alongside Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson. MacFarlane stars as sheep farmer Albert Stark in the spoof, set in Arizona circa 1882.

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The $40-million star-studded feature is eyeing a box-office debut in the $25 million range -- well behind the $54.4 million launch of MacFarlane's Ted on the same weekend two years ago (Ted went on to become the top-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time, earning $549.4 million globally) or the $49 million opening of fellow Universal comedy Neighbors three weeks ago.

Read what top critics are saying about A Million Ways to Die in the West:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic John DeFore says in his review that "most of the shock-violence gags the movie employs demonstrate the risks not of living in an age before modern medicine but of inhabiting a world whose authors aren't terribly gifted at slapstick." MacFarlane "gives most of his co-stars little to do besides attract our attention on movie posters;" specifically regarding the romance plot, "Theron carries almost all the weight here, given her partner's unexpected blandness, which makes it vaguely insulting when the third act turns her into a helpless damsel in need of his rescue."

While the script is light on the language of Western films -- written with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, it "dates itself with lines like 'Oh, snap!' 'Oh no I did-uhnt!' and 'douche' " -- Million Ways is "hardly laugh-free, [but] its uneven jokes appear to have breezed through a very forgiving editing process. ... The leave-it-all-in approach leads to a nearly two-hour running time that looks all the more indulgent, given how much invention Blazing Saddles packed into an hour-and-a-half."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden writes that "this flighty comedy, which imagines itself a son of Blazing Saddles, demolishes the heroic mystique of the Old West with the nose-thumbing glee of a rambunctious brat who has just crawled out of a fetid mud puddle." Of MacFarlane's leading-man potential, "It’s too soon to tell. He demonstrates enough confidence to emerge relatively unscathed from the movie ... but he is far from imperial. At the same time, you wonder if someone else (maybe Jim Carrey) could have given Albert a stronger personality." Even more so, a mustached "Harris threatens to steal the movie with his portrayal of this vain, preening fop, a hissable baddie whose mug is plastered with a ridiculous, curling handlebar."

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Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey notes that "MacFarlane is a very funny dude, and there are times A Million Ways to Die is indeed funny. But too often the movie feels half-baked ... basically the movie is structured into a series of 'High Noon' face-offs featuring MacFarlane trying to talk his way out of them." How so? "The deeper problem is the way the director uses political incorrectness like a blunt instrument. Mocking convention, religion, ethnicities, etc., is a long comic tradition and, well done, it can provide insight and laughs. But the pejorative way West floats the references is problematic rather than provocative."

The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan declares the Western "passably funny, assuming you have the stomach for jokes about diarrhea, sex, death and all manner of body parts (both human and sheep)." Despite MacFarlane's subpar acting (carried by his co-stars), "MacFarlane’s gift, such as it is, lies in pushing humor to the threshold of decorum and then charging across that line, consequences be damned. That’s what we pay him for ...The real problem with A Million Ways to Die in the West is one of editing. There are a million jokes in it, but only 500,000 of them are funny."

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USA Today's Claudia Puig gives the film three stars out of four, as it "boasts a clever high concept, with lots of knowing jokes about the American frontier. It entertainingly spoofs the era, offering a satirical take on movie Westerns. The only hitch in its giddy-up is how much it incorporates sophomoric and scatological humor ... the premise is humorous and the performances winning, so the reliance on raunch seems unnecessary and its gross-out gags off-putting." Altogether, it is "quintessential MacFarlane, at once silly and witty, juvenile and clever."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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