Lowdown: With a little help from his friends, a sheep farmer tries to survive the hostile Wild West.
What image comes up in your mind when you think of the American Wild West? Given the conditioning we have received through numerous Hollywood exploits, your image is likely to boast the glamour of the shooting duels and the exploration of a new frontier. Well, with his A Million Ways to Die in the West, actor/director Seth MacFarlane has produced an entire movie in order to tell you that the Wild West actually sucked. Big time. There were a million ways to die back there! Instead of looking with a longing feeling to that past, we should really celebrate what modern society has to offer us instead: low crime rates, running water, food that doesn't taste like shit, medicine and even gadgets.
When I think about it, it seems to me as if A Million Ways to Die in the West is actually the first time I was to witness MacFarlane’s prowess as an actor. Sure, between Family Guy, American Dad and Ted I’ve heard his voice a million times already; I also enjoyed the fruits of his love with the new Cosmos reboot he had produced. But seeing him act? Never before. Perhaps not surprisingly so, given he’s obviously not the best of actors. Lucky for him, though, he has surrounded himself with a very able crew. There’s Liam Neeson as the baddie and there’s Charlize Theron as his female femme fatale; and Theron, in particular, is a very able actress whose performance reminded me of the first time I’ve encountered and fell for her at the cinemas, back in 2 Days in the Valley.
So yes, you guessed it, A Million Ways to Die in the West is set in the Wild West. Albert (MacFarlane) is sheep farmer at an environment that worships the horse and doesn’t think much of sheep; indeed, he is more like a modern person in his behaviour, surrounded as he is by Wild West grade thugs (read: almost everybody else around him). He does have a likeminded friend in Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), though, and that friend even has a girlfriend. But she works as a whore at the town’s bar/brothel, and unlike every other man in town Edward never had sex with her. Because, you know, the Wild West sucked.
Into this environment comes thug Clinch (Neeson, whose character may have been modelled after a famous guy whose first name is Clint). The guy is a ruthless thug, so much so that his wife Anna (Theron) leaves him. Anna is quite able to fend for herself, thank you very much, but she falls for Albert even though he’s clearly unable to fend for anything; he does, however, have a heart and a brain. Albert, on his side, is more focused on regaining the girlfriend that didn’t care for him in the least and abandoned him in favour of status and money (amusingly represented by Neil Patrick Harris). So you get your love pentagon, completed when Clinch seeks revenge on anybody coming close to his wife.
Clearly, plot and character wise, there is nothing in A Million Ways to Die in the West that we haven’t seen before. What we do have is the typical MacFarlane humour/insight. If you like Family Guy, you’ll like this; if, like me, you share MacFarlane’s core worldviews, such as atheism and admiration for science and technology’s potential, you will like it even more. I will add, at this point, that I found myself quite touched by the romantic story developing between geeky Albert and supergirl Anna. In many respects it reminded me of the similarly well developed relationship between tech support guy Chuck and super secret agent Sarah Walker in the TV series Chuck.
Also worth noting is the collection of cameos this movie has to offer. They’re not your regular actors' cameos; A Million Ways to Die in the West goes bigger with movie cameos instead. Look for your Back to the Future and Django Unchained, to name the obvious examples.
Best scene: Albert and a friend discuss how the new game taking the kids of the era, rolling a wheel with the aid of a stick, is bad for them and reduces their ability to concentrate.
Overall: It might be silly and rough on the edges, but A Million Ways to Die in the West delivers the MacFarlane goods. 3 out of 5 happy crabs.