When fast-talking but cowardly sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) backs out of a gunfight his fickle, shallow girlfriend, local schoolmarm Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for the vain, foppish Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who runs the local Moustachery, a store devoted to the West’s ultimate male status symbol, the moustache. Sick of the death, disease and random violence that plagues the frontier, Albert decides to call it a day and leave the West in favour of the civilisation of San Francisco. But before he can leave, he meets the beautiful and mysterious Anna (Charlize Theron) who agrees to help him try to win back Louise. But as Albert and Anna spend time together, growing closer and slowly falling for one another, Anna’s estranged husband, the vicious bandit and gunfighter Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), rides into town, hellbent on revenge, forcing Albert to realise, in true Western fashion, that sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Written, directed, produced and starring Seth MacFarlane (he probably also made the sandwiches!), A Million Ways To Die In The West may be no Blazing Saddles but it is rip-roaring, vulgar fun that both celebrates and shreds the romantic traditions of the Western, MacFarlane’s customary scattershot, scatological approach to humour deflating a few myths of the Old West as he lines up his sacred cows and takes a six-shooter to them, race relations, sexism and the traditional concept of masculinity, hell, America itself, all coming under fire as MacFarlane’s motormouthed, cowardly nerd tries to survive in a hostile world plagued by trigger-happy gunmen, runaway steers, cholera, exploding cameras, falling blocks of ice and hostile Indians, a world where “Everything that’s not you, wants to kill you.” MacFarlane’s West is a dangerous place where people die, more often than not messily. Sure the film’s overlong and hit-and-miss, with too-long stretches where tumbleweed and fart jokes blow through in place of genuine laughs and, dare I say it (dare dare), proves once and for all that a little bit of Neil Patrick Harris goes a long, long, loooooong way, but A Million Ways To Die In The West is sporadically pant-wettingly hilarious, particularly when the heroically profane Sarah Silverman (as the West’s primmest saloon whore) and her virginal fiancé, local cobbler Giovanni Ribisi share the screen, their love scene managing to be sweetly offensive.

MacFarlane makes a decent fist of a leading man and his Albert belongs to a venerable tradition of tenderfoots and cowards that goes all the way back to Bob Hope (Painless Potter with cock jokes) commenting at one point “I’m not the hero,” Albert insists. “I’m the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt,” and there’s an easy, believable chemistry between him and leading lady Charlize Theron who’s great and sassy as the cynical, far more capable, Anna, their romance unfolding naturally through knob and dope gags as they pal around before love rears it’s ugly head. As bad guy Clinch, Neeson’s obviously having a whale of a time, strutting around with an evil glint in his eye, gunning down celebrity cameos and threatening to shoot a dog while Amanda Seyfried sends herself up (one of the film’s best visual gags involving the size of her eyes) and Silverman and Ribisi effortlessly steal the film. Neil Patrick Harris however is yet again just playing the same smug, vain, preening bellend he’s played for years on How I Met Your Mother only this time with some elaborate face fuzz and, of course, he has to get a tediously unfunny dance number (though thankfully someone else sings) that’s a hymn to the joys of the moustache (though the scene where he becomes sexually aroused by Seyfried fellating his waxed ‘tache is genius).

Perhaps the films greatest strength though isn’t its frat boy, gross-out sense of humour – highlights of which include a sheep pissing in MacFarlane’s face, Neil Patrick Harris repeatedly shitting in people’s hats and Ribisi tenderly wiping a customer’s splodge of spunk from Silverman’s face – but MacFarlane’s obvious affection for the Western. Expansively filming in that most cinematic of locations, the iconic Monument Valley with a soundtrack that apes the style of classic Western scores like The Big Country, A Million Ways To Die In The West (like Blazing Saddles before it) looks and, more importantly, feels like a proper Western (just one with a lot of dick and shit gags), MacFarlane’s irreverent, absurdist piss-taking growing out of a real love of the genre as well as a desire to deconstruct it.

While A Million Ways To Die In The West is poorly paced and plotted (just coherent enough will do apparently) and could have done with being half an hour shorter, MacFarlane’s cast is appealing and while the overall impression is one of sloppiness, he throws so many gags at the wall that at least half of them stick. A Million Ways To Die In The West may not be subtle or reach the impossible heights of Mel Brooks ‘70s classic but it’s thankfully no Three Amigos either.


DVD Review: A Million Ways To Die In The West
Funny, filthy and raucously good-natured
3.0Overall Score
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