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Westward, no! A Million Ways to Die in the West'

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McFarlane's Western spoof a lackluster effort

I'll be the first to admit that I was not a believer when Seth McFarlane's first big-screen offering came along a couple of years back. But 2012's 'Ted' proved me wrong; while it certainly wasn't groundbreaking comedy, it wore its crassness and crudity and its not-at-all-small heart on its fuzzy little sleeve.

So I had some high hopes for McFarlane's second foray into the cinema. As producer, director, co-writer and star of 'A Million Ways to Die in the West,' the lion's share of the credit (or blame) for the film's success (or failure) is going to be laid at his feet.

Unfortunately, it appears that the dreaded sophomore slump hit McFarlane and hit him hard.

McFarlane stars as Albert Stark, a shiftless sheep farmer living in the small town of Old Stump in Arizona in the 1880s. Stark finds himself faced with a gunfight; being the coward that he is, he negotiates his way out of it. This in turn leads to his embarrassed girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried, 'The Big Wedding') to break up with him; she immediately takes up with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris, TV's 'How I Met Your Mother'), the wildly successful owner of the town's Mustachery.

Meanwhile, the infamous gunman Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson, 'The Lego Movie') has been killing people left and right and is scheming up some ill-defined crime or another, so he sends his unhappy and put-upon wife Anna (Charlize Theron, 'Prometheus') to lay low in Old Stump until he comes to retrieve her.

Due to some wildly out-of-character heroics, Albert finds himself slowly growing closer to Anna (despite the fact that she never really tells him anything about herself). She immediately signs on to help him win back the heart of Louise; her plan is built around pretending to be Albert's girlfriend and teaching him how to shoot so he can win a gunfight against Foy. But as one might expect, the time spent together leads to sparks flying between the two of them.

But those sparks ignite a potentially deadly flame when Clinch comes to town, demanding to know what man would dare dally with the wife of the deadliest gun in the west. Albert must look within himself to find out if he truly is a coward or if he has what it takes to be the man that Louise wanted him to be and that Anna always believed that he was.

'A Million Ways' isn't abadmovie, necessarily. There are a few laughs to be mined from the premise mostly drawn from the anachronistic attitudes toward the realities of frontier life. There's some cleverness there for sure (I particularly enjoyed the training montage), but the jokes get repetitive and stale fairly quickly. The whole movie feels overstuffed there's just not quite enough here to fill two hours, so there's a significant amount of filler. Its biggest problem is that while 'Blazing Saddles' was made 40 years ago, it still holds up. It's still a wildly entertaining movie. And Seth McFarlane, bless his heart, is no Mel Brooks and he never will be. This movie's saddles are lukewarm at best.

The cast is undeniably talented - to an almost shocking degree - but many of them never quite manage to find their footing on the decidedly uneven ground of this script. Harris's character is two things: mustachioed and a d-bag. Seyfried doesn't even get that much we're left wondering why Albert ever liked her in the first place. Giovanni Ribisi ('Gangster Squad') and Sarah Silverman ('Wreck-It Ralph') playing a cobbler/prostitute couple saving themselves for marriage are too funny to have this little to do.

And seriously does McFarlane have compromising photos of Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson? Because how else could you explain their presence? Neeson is interesting here; he appears to be the only one refusing to acknowledge that he's in a comedy, playing it as straight as he can and it works. And Charlize Theron is hands-down the best part of this movie she's clearly comfortable with McFarlane's bread-and-butter crudity, but she somehow elevates it without ever coming off as above it. She even makes McFarlane seem competent as an actor a competence belied every time he does a scene without her in it.

'A Million Ways to Die in the West' is a frustrating movie experience. While you might go in wanting it to be good perhaps even believing it will be good you know deep down that it will ultimately disappoint. It has its moments, but they aren't nearly enough to save it.

[2.5 out of 5]

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