Seth MacFarlane proved his skills as a filmmaker and artist with the film Ted. Ted was a film about a toy teddy bear who comes to life through a little boy’s wish. The bear grows with the boy throughout his journey to adulthood. Macfarlane voiced the raunchy crazy teddy bear who couldn’t grow up and Mark Wahlberg played the adult version of the young boy as an adult. This film was a funny film about how growing up with a best friend doesn’t always mean growing together. A Million Ways to Die in the West is the opposite of what made Ted great. There is nothing that makes the lead character worth investing your time in.
Macfarlane again directs, produces, writes and stars in this film about a sheep farmer who hates the Old West and the frontier. Macfarlane seems to want to poke fun at all of the ways he believes his town called Stump is horrible place. He has this drawn out monologue about all the ways a single individual can die in Stump. This monologue is the reason why the movie is a failure as a comedy. Macfarlane feels like he needs to beat us over the head with whatever jokes he thinks will be funny and then watch and see what sticks. I feel like not only is this the wrong approach if you’re trying to satirize Westerns and the Old West but it just gives the impression that this sheep farmer character is a curmudgeon and grumpy about being dumped by now ex-girlfriend portrayed by Amanda Seyfried.
The most important thing about a comedy is knowing that the genre is subjective. The problem with MacFarlane is he seems completely set on appealing to the lowest common dominator with this film. He spends most of this film’s two hour running time tell poop jokes and showing the audience gratuitous sight gags. While I was always surprised when either joke came on screen I very rarely felt any sense of enjoyment.
What Macfarlane needed to do was take something someone is known for and spin it to the opposite of what people are used to. If Macfarlane really wanted to satirize the Old West all he really needed to do was cast Clint Eastwood as an old man who in addition to looking tough is a horrible gunfighter but is relentlessly putting himself in situations where he could be killed but avoids it through various funny coincidences.
Neil Patrick Harris was smarmy in his role as a moustached man with a big ego but his character really only existed to remind Macfarlane how much of a loser he was. Giovanni Ribisi portrays Macfarlane’s Christian best friend who has a prostitute for a girlfriend played by Sarah Silverman and the running joke with them is that Ribisi wants to be intimate before marriage and Silverman wants to wait. That’s the joke and it’s a pointless one because everyone can see the irony in that conflict. In fact, all of the supporting characters were literally one individual joke stuck on replay. The reason comedies work is because comedic characters are given more than one dimension to be funny in.
Macfarlane had a brilliant opportunity to make fun of every aspect of history we know about the Old West. The disappointing thing is he only took one aspect of that time period and used it as a joke for the whole film. Everything that makes Fox network’s Family Guy so hilarious was in this film, it’s a tragedy none of it was funny. In the end, A Million Ways to Die in the West was put out of it’s misery before the cows even started making their way home or pigs started being gathered for the slaughter because it’s an unfunny comedy that took no time to really make fun of the historical period it was set in.