The parting shot of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, a distant Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder being driven off into the sunset in a limousine, is at once a loving homage to the Western movie and gloriously daft undermining of all the cliché which supports that genre.
Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West attempts to do much of the same by combining the raucous, offensive spirit of that comedy with the odd man out sensibility of City Slickers. Its failure to do so doesn’t rank among humanities worst crimes, but may just come close to troubling the frontrunners on the list of most inane and pointless human endeavours.
Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer scratching out a living in the frontier town of Old Stump. He hates it. Hates his job, hates his town, hates the people and most of all hates the fact that The West is just a stupendously dangerous place to live. Pretty much the only thing keeping him from driving off in his own limo is his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), a dense, grinning, human clothes-horse with all the intrinsic magnetism of a parasol-wielding soft-boiled egg.
Thinking herself above the likes of him, she dumps him in favour of Foy, the town’s odious moustache salesman (Neil Patrick Harris) leaving Stark bereft of comfort out in his wild home. Any sensible individual would leave the two morons to each other’s company, but filmic tradition dictates that our ‘hero’ must attempt to look busy for two hours so, predictably, he tries to win her back.
Stark’s plan involves the newly-arrived Anna (Charlize Theron), hiding in the town whilst her criminal husband, Clinch (Liam Neeson) robs a nearby stagecoach. Basically, she spends her time teaching him how to act tough (in order to make him seem more manly) whilst repeatedly blathering on about what a bloody catch he is (in order to make his ex jealous).
MacFarlane’s comedy tactic is to run with a steady stream of anachronistic complaints about the state of living in nineteenth century western USA, which amount to little more than yelling ‘fuck me, this is all pretty silly’ whilst wearing a cowboy hat. Wolves suddenly eat people, cows suddenly trample other people, even more people get set on fire and shot and crushed, but funnily enough never bored to death.
That MacFarlane makes himself the film’s most loveable loser and the only sane man in the town ranks as some pretty conceited narcissism on his part. ‘You’re not good enough for him’ Amanda Seyfried, and by extension the entire audience, is told again and again; it makes you wonder if MacFarlane isn’t twisting the knife into some old flame of his own. All in all, it’s a fairly irksome piece of nerdy wish-fulfilment that meanders around for a couple of hours dabbling with drugs, devoutly religious hookers and a batch of cameos courtesy of MacFarlane’s celebrity mates.
Save yourself a wasted evening and re-watch Blazing Saddles, otherwise you’ll be risking your lives whilst Seth MacFarlane will be risking an almost certain Razzie nomination in any number of categories.
Universal Pictures UK
30th May 2014 (UK)
Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neal Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried