Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) which went up this weekend at cinemaknifefight.com, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.
Thanks for reading!
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014)
Review by Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A dusty frontier town in the old west. Tumbleweed blows across the path. Cool Ennio Morricone music begins to play, as a solitary figure on horseback rides into town. The townsfolk appear at their doors and windows. Two old timers appear at the door to the saloon.
OLD TIMER #1 (looking at man on horseback): Who is that?
OLD TIMER #2: Jumpin jackrabbits! That’s the Man With No Name!
(Camera closes in to reveal it is MICHAEL ARRUDA on horseback, looking grizzled and rough. ARRUDA looks into the camera and spits onto the ground.
OLD TIMER #1 (to his fellow Old Timer): You dumb nugget! That’s not the Man With No Name! That’s a Cinema Knife Fighter! (Cue dramatic beat)
(MA enters bar and approaches bartender.)
MA: Whiskey. (Bartender nods and pours MA a drink. The two old timers amble up to MA.)
OLD TIMER #1: Hey, Mr. Cinema Knife Fighter. Are you here to review a movie?
MA (glares at the man): What’s it to you?
OLD TIMER #1: Just askin. I meant no disrespect.
MA: None taken.
OLD TIMER #2: Don’t you usually ride with a partner?
MA (spits again): I’m ridin solo today.
OLD TIMER #2: Is he— (gulps)— pushin up daisies?
MA: He’s— preoccupied.
(Cut to L.L. SOARES in a gunfight with a bunch of bandits, while he has his arm around a beautiful buxom woman. They kiss, with LS never missing a beat as he continues to shoot the bandits, even pausing to guzzle some whiskey and smoke a cigar.
L.L. SOARES (looks at camera): I just love the Old West!)
(Back at the bar, an attractive young woman approaches MA.)
SALLY: Well, well, well, look who’s in town? (Looks at MA and leans in close to him) What movie are you reviewing today?
MA: A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST.
GUNSLINGER (jumps up from his seat): Is that a threat?
MA: It’s the name of the movie.
GUNSLINGER (pauses): I knew that. (Sits back down.)
SALLY: You gonna tell us about it?
MA (downs his whiskey): I didn’t come here for the view. (Looks at Sally) Not that I’m complainin. It’s a mighty fine view.
OLD TIMER #1: How about the movie? How was it?
MA: Well, let me tell you about it. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is the latest comedy by writer/director/actor Seth MacFarlane, the man behind the hit animated TV show FAMILY GUY, and the man who brought us the hit movie TED (2012), which I thought was just okay. I loved Ted the Bear, but the rest of the movie was uneven. I like FAMILY GUY, though.
Now comes A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, a comedy western spoof that before seeing it immediately made me think of Mel Brooks’ classic BLAZING SADDLES (1974), and I’m not going to sit here and compare the two, because Brooks is one of my favorite filmmakers, and MacFarlane in terms of movies anyway is just getting started. That being said, he has a ways to go yet.
In a goofy movie like A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, the plot hardly matters, but for the record: it’s the story of a young sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) living in the Old West whose girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) breaks up with him because he’s a loser and instead dates the far more successful mustache shop owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris).
Albert is crushed, but soon his fortunes change as a beautiful woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) rides into town, and she becomes attracted to Albert, and she helps him get over his former love. Albert is one happy man, until he discovers that Anna is married to the deadliest gunslinger in the west, Clinch (Liam Neeson).
When Clinch arrives in town with his gang, he makes it known to everyone that he’s going to kill the man who had been spending time with his wife. Albert must then decide either to run away or to stay and fight the deadly gunslinger.
The running gag in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is that the old west is a dangerous place to live and there’s no shortage of ways to die there.
(Chandelier falls from ceiling and lands on GUNSLINGER, instantly killing him.)
MA (points to fallen Gunslinger): Like that.
OLD TIMER #1: You mean things like this don’t happen in other places?
MA: Accidents happen everywhere. But modern medicine is more effective where I come from.
OLD TIMER #1: Jeesh. I never thought of it that way. I may have to move.
MA: Anyway, when the film stays focused on this theme, it’s really funny, but when it strays over to bathroom humor and sex jokes, it drops down several notches. So, for my money, A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is a mixed bag.
I loved the jokes about death in the old west. There’s one sequence in particular where MacFarlane’s Albert delivers a diatribe to his two friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman) on just how deadly it is to live there that is absolutely hilarious. The jokes about life expectancy are also spot-on, like in one scene where Anna says she got married at 9 because she didn’t want to wait until she was 15 and old, as are the jokes about the medical practices of the day, like the treatment of the blue jay pecking at the facial wound.
OLD TIMER #1: I hate that! I always ask for the gnawing rat instead.
MA: Unfortunately, most of the sight gags featuring people dying in awful ways were given away in the film’s trailers. This isn’t the movie’s fault, I know, but it’s a fact that I can’t ignore, which is, that many of the funniest parts of this movie I had already seen in the film’s trailers.
For example, there’s a very funny sequence where Albert meets up with an Indian tribe that would have been even funnier had I not seen its best moments already.
Some of the running gags work, while others don’t. The scenes with Albert’s parents I thought were comical throughout and actually got funnier as the movie went on. On the other hand, the running gag of Albert’s friends Edward and Ruth waiting to have sex until they’re married, while Ruth has sex with other men every day because she’s a prostitute, was humorous at first, but after a while grew repetitive and tired.
When the film ventures into the lowest common denominator of comedy, bathroom humor, it, pardon the pun, bottoms out. We’re treated to sheep penises, sheep peeing on Albert, a hat full of excrement, fart jokes, and on I could go. If you like this sort of humor, then no doubt you’ll find A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST funnier than I did.
When MacFarlane steers clear of this stuff and actually gets creative with the material, the movie is very funny, but when he dips into the toilet water for humor, he produces what you’d expect to find in a toilet: a turd.
SALLY: That’s nasty.
MA: My point exactly.
The best comedians are the ones who have something to say, and when MacFarlane has something to say, the movie is better for it. When he jokes about farts and diarrhea, it begs the question, just how much can one say about going to the bathroom? Not much.
Even so, I enjoy MacFarlane the writer better than MacFarlane the actor. Here in A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, there’s something very shallow about his performance as Albert. He’s supposed to be a likeable loser, but the problem is he’s not that likeable. He comes off more as a wise ass, and frankly, I didn’t understand why Anna was attracted to him. Albert doesn’t seem like a sincere person, as there’s something phony in MacFarlane’s performance, as if he’s about to wink at the camera and say “I’m screwing with you.”
It’s the opposite of TED. In TED, the best part was the stuffed bear, Ted, voiced by MacFarlane. Here, I’d have to say one of the worst parts was Albert, played by MacFarlane. I just didn’t buy the character.
Charlize Theron, on the other hand, gives the best performance in the movie. Anna is naturally funny, and her humor comes from her self-confidence, as she goes out of her way to teach Albert how to shoot a gun, and she helps him overcome his misguided attraction to the selfish Louise. The scenes where she trash talks Louise are some of the best in the movie, mostly because she does it with class and intelligence.
Liam Neeson plays it straight as the villain, Clinch, which is fine, but what’s not fine is that there’s no one funny around him to play off his seriousness. Clinch was in desperate need of some goofy henchman or something.
The rest of the cast is so-so. I like Amanda Seyfried a lot, and she’s fine here as Louise, but it’s a minor role, and she has little else to do but be cold and rude to Albert at first and jealous later. Neil Patrick Harris as Foy, the man who steals Albert’s girl, is just your standard pompous jerk.
Giovanni Ribisi, who was also in TED as the weirdo father who steals Ted to give to his even weirder son, is rather subdued here as Edward, the meek man who doesn’t mind that his wife is a prostitute who performs every possible sex act with other men but wants to wait until they’re married to have sex with him.
Sarah Silverman is actually pretty funny as Edward’s fiancée, Ruth, and she gets to enjoy some of the more vulgar parts of the movie when she talks about the things she does with her clients. It’s very funny at first but gets old fast.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST isn’t really a spoof of westerns. It’s just a comedy about a loser and his new girlfriend who helps him feel good about himself, which just happens to take place in the old west, a place in time where you were lucky if you lived to be thirty.
And while it’s funny at times, it never becomes as creative, silly, inane, or as sharp as it could have been. There are certainly glimpses of talent from the mind of Seth MacFarlane here, but unfortunately he likes to dip from the cesspool of bathroom humor, something he obviously is comfortable doing, because he does it often. It’s a habit that doesn’t serve him well.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST is an okay comedy that made me laugh here and there, but not as much as I would have liked. Fans of penises and feces no doubt will disagree and like it more than I did.
I give it two knives.
SALLY: It doesn’t sound like too bad a movie.
MA: It’s not. But it’s not great either.
SALLY: So, what does a nice Cinema Knife Fighter like yourself do after a hard day’s work?
MA: I can think of one or two things.
(Sally whispers into his ear)
MA: Those are two things that I was thinking of, yes. (To Old Timers) See you, gents.
(MA & Sally climb the stairs to the upper level of the bar and exit.)
OLD TIMER #2: Why are they going up to Sally’s room?
OLD TIMER #1 (striking his friend with his hat): You stupid old coyote! Why do you think they’re going up there?
OLD TIMER #2: To review another movie? Is that it? Does Sally have one of those newfangled Blu-ray players up there? They gonna review a Blu-ray movie?
OLD TIMER #1: You is stupid.