Is Boredom One?
DIRECTOR: SETH MACFARLANE/2014
Mel Brooks once said that in order to successfully parody something, you had to love it first. But despite Michael Barrett’s gorgeous cinematography that evokes classic westerns of yesteryear, it’s clear that Seth MacFarlane has little more than sneering disdain for the Old West. This is nowhere close to being in the same league as Blazing Saddles; it’s not even in the same ballpark as Back to the Future Part III. Heck, this isn’t even on the level of Shanghai Noon. I might put it about equal with Wild Wild West, although my past memories of that film are far more entertaining than my present memories of this one. Just call this one Lazy Saddles; low-hanging fruit for the lowest-common-denominator.
The whole gist of the movie is that the Old West sucks. That’s it. MacFarlane has nothing else to offer here—nothing of substance behind the snark. It’s just one painfully long running joke; an inane “comedy” routine with barely enough material to fill a ten-minute stretch, stretched out to a nearly two-hour running time, with only minor variations on the theme, and a few random and meaningless cameos. Even the promise of the title itself is mostly abandoned; there are a few lazily easy sight gags of people dying in gruesome ways, but they’re few and far-between, happening seemingly at random.
Woven in-between the repetitive gags is the story of an affable schlub (MacFarlane) gaining his confidence while falling in love with a badass beauty (Charlize Theron), but even this overly familiar tripe fails to gain any traction, since the characters are so ironically detached from their setting that it’s impossible to care about them as real people. They’re like snarky hipsters with their heads up their own asses, poking fun at something other people like because they thinks it’s cool; a post-post-modern Greek chorus promoted to leading couple, roles they are woefully ill-suited for.
Although the film is slightly amusing for the first fifteen minutes or so, it wears out its welcome faster than the fastest gun in the West.
The best gags have been spoiled already in the trailers, and once the jokes have become old hat (right about the first of many times they’re recycled), you can’t help but notice the other glaring flaws in the film—from the numerous plot holes to the disjointed story structure, which includes characters that disappear for long periods of time, story set-ups with no pay-off, and a villain that doesn’t even factor into the plot until the final act. A good comedy would have us laughing so hard that we wouldn’t care about these issues. But A Million Ways to Die in the West is anything but. It’s as if a group of snickering 14-year-old boys stayed up all night to write a first draft of a script, and then someone at Universal green-lit it because, hey, the kids sure love that Family Guy, right?
I had thought that MacFarlane showed some promise of breaking out of that tired Family Guy shtick with 2012’s Ted (which I thought was actually pretty funny), but A Million Ways to Die in the West is like the worst kind of Family Guy episode—the “event” episode that spends so much energy functioning as one long parody that its normal brand of non-sequitur “humour” is even more unfunny than usual.