Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, and Liam Neeson. Rated R.
Seth MacFarlane doesn’t look like he’s ever ridden a horse to a gunfight, admired a blood-red badlands sunset, or slammed back whisky shots in a brawling frontier saloon. How much that bothers you will determine your enjoyment of his wildly flawed but frequently funny comedy-duster gross-out A Million Ways to Die in the West.
The film gets plenty right from a visual standpoint, from sumptuously shot Monument Valley scenes to the sun-bleached one-jail town of Old Stump. That makes it all the more jarring to see MacFarlane in the role of old-timey sheep farmer and reluctant gunfighter Albert Stark. Forget a weather-beaten leading man whose main talents are squinting, grunting, and shooting anything with a pulse; what we get is a makeup-caked cross between John F. Kennedy and a Crest whitening strips commercial.
What comes through in A Million Ways to Die is that MacFarlane loves westerns, especially ones titled Blazing Saddles. The Hollywood powerbroker—who also cowrote and directed—plays his lowly sheep farmer as a wisecracking loser who’s afraid of his own shadow. In a plot that’s as conventional as it is strangely laboured, he’s called on to discover his inner Clint Eastwood and battle the fastest gunslinger in the West, original American badass Clinch Leatherwood (an effectively menacing Liam Neeson). Teaching him to shoot and hold his own at local barn dances is the kindhearted but lethal Anna Barnes (Charlize Theron, channelling Sharon Stone’s The Lady from the epically underrated The Quick and the Dead).
The action is loaded with bodily-fluid–inspired jokes that basically ramp the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles up to 11. Predictably, most of them are fantastically disgusting: there are dry-fart jokes, wet-fart jokes, penis-fart jokes (don’t ask), and shit jokes that operate on the premise that there’s no sense evacuating your bowels in one cowboy hat when you can crap in two. Those offended by MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number at the Oscars will find A Million Ways to Die in the West more disgusting than an Old West outhouse. That’s their problem.
MacFarlane’s ode to a more primitive and uncivilized time might have its issues, from the clunky editing to setups that don’t always pay off. But, to his credit, he looks like he doesn’t give a, ahem, shit. The guy’s too busy amusing himself; after the first half-hour, you’ll lose count of how many times he’s doubled over, laughing at his own jokes. Fart fans with a thing for cowboy hats will be right there with him.