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May 29, 2014

Movie review: A million and one ... but who's counting?

Flat and uneven, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" aspires to be a modern riff on "Blazing Saddles," yet its fluctuating tone bungles any comic momentum.

The audience is eager to roll in the aisles, and early on, absurd one-liners and silly sight gags entertain. Then, the banter rambles on, and creator Seth MacFarlane's lopsided reliance on bathroom humor takes over.

To poke fun at the miseries of frontier life, MacFarlane and two other "Family Guy" writers, Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin, attempt hilarity with modern dialogue, but it is oddly out-of-sync in the Arizona 1882 setting.

MacFarlane plays a wimpy sheep farmer whose girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for the more suave and successful mustache shop owner Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). When a new gal (Charlize Theron) rides into town, he mends his broken heart --and cracks her up.

Her outlaw husband Clinch (Liam Neeson) shows up. Uh-oh, can trouble be averted? Can they ride off into the sunset together, despite disease, disintery, bad doctors, mean varmints and ruthless gunslingers?


Rookie leading man MacFarlane, as star-writer-director, is stretched too thin, and he lacks the acting chops to make Albert a convincing anchor. Sure he's talented, but needs more seasoning. Mel Brooks, he's not.

Although Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron succeeded in playful turns hosting "Saturday Night Live," they seem out of place here, as if they're in a different movie.

The raunchiest subplot involves Sarah Silverman as a very busy prostitute with a sweet virginal boyfriend (Giovanni Ribisi). They're team players, but the shock value soon frays.

Neil Patrick Harris assuredly leads a song-and-dance number, his wheelhouse, and has fun as the slimy villain. But the character is underwritten, and his repetitive jokes run out of steam. Unfortunately, too, NPH is saddled with the most prolonged and grossest bout of diarrhea ever filmed.

The left-field cameos are a bright spot, headliner comedians and major movie stars, but the latest trailer gives away the film's best guest appearance. What?

What Works

With Joel McNeely's majestic score resembling the sweeping western sagas of yesteryear, and handsome cinematography by Michael Barrett, the Wild West atmosphere is strong.

A running gag about assorted horrible demises is clever, yet fails to build.

What Doesn't Work

Anyone familiar with MacFarlane's scattershot and crass humor should expect an abundance of vulgarity. That's no surprise. But he lazily relies too much on disgusting bodily fluid gags. Besides, the jokes overall feel stale.

Well-known as an equal opportunity offender, MacFarlane crosses the line regarding race and religion. A county fair game is jaw-dropping repulsive, not funny in any way, no matter who shows up during the credits.

The movie doesn't match the outrageous humor of MacFarlane's "Ted," which at least had a fresh premise. Its originality and wit compensated for the lowbrow naughty bits.

"A Million Ways to Die" is a disappointing mess. It can't overcome a weak script and derivative feel. And enough already with the overused drug references.

1 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman, Giovani Ribisi

Rated: R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material.

Length: 1:56

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