After cowardly sheep farmer, and general smart ass, Albert (Seth MacFarlane) backs out of a gunfight, his shallow and selfish girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for the town’s ‘mustachier’ (a store specializing solely in mustache upkeep and treatment) Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Soon after, a mysterious and beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town with her brother and decides to help him make Louise jealous. However, when Albert finds his courage he discovers that he has started to fall in love with the allusive beauty. What Albert doesn’t know is that Anna is the wife of the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) who soon arrives seeking to reclaim his bride, and revenge in the process. Thus leaving the sheep farmer forced to put his newfound courage to the test if he wants to save the woman he loves.
A Million Ways to Die in the West suffers from what many Seth MacFarlane projects tend to fall victim to, he seems to fall in love with his jokes and gags too much and lingers on them way too long to the point of ruining a punchline. There is a perfect example of this towards the beginning of the third act of the film when MacFarlane’s Albert sets out to duel Patrick Harris’ Foy, who has been dosed with laxatives prior to the big shoot out. The predictable toilet humor takes a slight humorous turn with the involvement of a hat and the wearer not wanting to relinquish it, but that is almost immediately ruined by the follow up to the punchline that takes gag too far.
The performances for the most part are paper thin and barely devised characters that merely exist for MacFarlane to move around. Theron seems to be happy just coasting through here, though she does remain upbeat and charming throughout. The real saviours here, the only reasons this film remains watchable, are Patrick Harris and the on-screen couple of goofy Giovanni Ribisi and prostitute Sarah Silverman. Silverman excels because she knows how to go to the edge without crossing it. And the relationship between her and the Ribisi’s virginal Edward leads to the best relationship-driven comedy of the entire film.
There are a few genuine laughs to be had from A Million ways to Die in the West, mainly coming from a string of cameo appearances from other Hollywood notables, but you have to wade through the malaise of mediocrity that permeates the film to get to them. Still as predictable as most of it is, there could be a lot worse evenings out at the movies.