A Million Ways To Die In The West

One word sprang to mind when I first saw the official trailer (the “red band” version with the swearing) some 12 months ago now, “Brilliant!“.

That was worrying because the trailer was so well cut, so hilariously funny, that surely it contained all the best bits of the film? Could there really be anything else to see here? Well the trailer does oversell the film a bit, but yes there is more, yes it is, “mostly”, funny, and yes you should absolutely get some popcorn and spend a Friday night watching the DVD.

A Million Ways To Die In The West is a Western with a modern day dialogue. We’ve seen modern day speech patterns and references used to comedy effect in Westerns since way back in the Carry On films and Blazing Saddles. References to modern day activities, “Don’t drink and horse”, somehow seem hilariously funny when set in the Wild West.

The film follows Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) a mild mannered sheep farmer, living a lonely life, and trying to avoid death in the town of Old Stump on the western frontier (1882). We follow Stark as he loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to a wealthy local businessman (Neil Patrick Harris), and spends his days drinking away his sorrows with his best (and seemingly only) friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his prostitute fiancée, Ruth (Sarah Silverman).

When mysterious newcomer Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town and captures Albert’s interest and heart, he becomes a new man. But with her deadly husband Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) in tow, Albert is going to have to become the western gun-slinging hero he never was.

Word of warning, my sense of humour is fairly childish, if you like your comedy clever and subtle then move right along! Written, produced, and directed by Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy and American Dad!) the humour ranges from clever observational comedy, to slapstick, right down to overly gratuitous potty humour. If you caught his first live action film the 2012 smash hit Ted you will have some idea of what to expect.

There is some guffaw out loud dialogue, some brilliant visual gags (I loved the woolly sheep), a hilarious song and dance number (lead by Neil Patrick Harris, playing Barney Stinson a la 1882), and a drug induced animated sequence complete with dancing animated sheep!

There is also “a lot” of toilet humour, too much to allow for a great film. And some unashamed racism, although done for comic effect, is unnecessary and uncomfortable. It jumped between brilliantly clever comedy and gross cringe in your seat comedy too many times to achieve the kind of balance the true greats, like the original “Hangover“, pull off.

That said my wife and I chuckled quietly most of the way through, the film is carried by a great cast, and I won’t spoil the cameo by one of the greatest film trilogies ever made!

There are some genuine laughs to be had here but how many depends a great deal on how you take your comedy.