I’m not a big fan of Seth MacFarlane, but I’m willing to admit that my dislike for MacFarlane is based mostly on what I think MacFarlane is like based on animated shows I don’t even watch. Best I can tell based on anecdotal evidence, a few reviews, and an episode here or there, the reason why so many people dislike MacFarlane is the same reason why so many people love him: He pushes the boundaries of political incorrectness, and at least attempts to be shocking, even if he does so in ways that occasionally borrow too heavily from the superior South Park.
There was evidence of MacFarlane’s comedic possibilities in the phenomenally funny Ted, which found that perfect sweet spot between hilarious and so wrong and won over many of us who were ready to hate the movie. None of that “so wrong” spirit survives in A Million Ways to Die in the West, however. There’s a few cursory attempts to make us laugh uncomfortably — mostly through the prostitute played by Sarah Silverman who will fuck anyone in any manner except her boyfriend because she’s a Christian and is waiting for marriage — but even that comes off as bad sketch comedy, a joke repeated over and over until it’s completely lost its power.
Beyond that and a fangless slave joke that a Jamie Foxx cameo completely neuters, A Million Ways to Die in the West is mostly characterized by how completely boring it is. Seth MacFarlane seems to have lost his nerve, and instead of making jokes that might alienate some, he stoops to dumb puns and using the word “fuck” repeatedly, as though the word has any charge in it without the context of a button-pushing joke or gag.
Even the premise, which held the promise of watching countless characters die horrifically amusing deaths, is wasted. Beyond that ice-block gag that we’ve seen in the trailers countless times, the rest of the deaths are cartoonish and tame, and there’s really not even that many deaths to speak of. It’s very disappointing when you’re hoping to see a million ways to die, and he only gives us nine or 10.
The conceit mostly takes a backseat to a storyline we’ve seen in dozens of bad teen comedies: Albert (MacFarlane) is dumped by his shallow girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried), who leaves him for a douchebag (Neil Patrick Harris) with a comically silly moustache and a penchant for terrible puns (and at one point, even borrows a catchphrase from his How I Met Your Mother that is so painful). The new girl in town, Anna (Charlize Theron), attempts to help Albert win back his ex-girlfriend by training him up for a duel, but predictably, they end up falling for each other. The catch: Anna is actually married to the most evil, quick-draw villain in the West (Liam Neeson).
There were actually some legitimate comedic possibilities in A Million Ways to Die in the West, but MacFarlane mostly passes them up to focus on a love story with zero chemistry that no one cares about. MacFarlane lost his nut. He’s not even trying to offend us anymore, and I either wanted to laugh and feel bad about myself, or at least feel outraged when MacFarlane somehow crossed a line. But he doesn’t even approach the line. Most of the jokes are something we might see in a bad Ashton Kutcher comedy, only they’ve been transplanted into the Old West. And the “climactic” finale is so undercooked and underwhelming that one wonders if MacFarlane just gave up by the end. “Fuck it, this is bad. I’m not gonna put any more effort into it. I’m done.”
I wish that MacFarlane had been offensive in A Million Ways to Die in the West because at least then I’d have felt something besides my life slipping away. MacFarlane has been neutered. He lost his testicles, and he may as well be making Adam-Sandler-like family comedies now because that’s the level of sophistication in A Million Ways to Die in the West, and without his political incorrectness, MacFarlane has nothing.