If you do choose to watch this A Million Ways to Die in the West, one thing you should know going in is that A Million Ways to Die in the West is not a western. It’s director/producer/writer/star Seth MacFarlane going down a checklist of wild west tropes to shove into his romp in what is supposedly 1882 Arizona. Everything from the characters’ clothes, to their faces, to the stereotypical little town, looks clean and plastic. Later on, an overlong detour with an American Indian tribe grinds the film’s third act to a screeching halt, for ostensibly no other reason than that a western absolutely must have indians in it.
Seth MacFarlane stars as a mopey, non-confrontational smart-mouth that seems pulled right out of a Japanese anime series: Albert Stark, a lowly sheep farmer, whose cowardice has earned the scorn of his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Louise promptly falls into the arms of slimy rich man Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), at which point Anna (Charlize Theron), the new girl from out of town tries to help Albert and Louise get back together, but then fall for each other, to the chagrin of Anna’s outlaw husband Clinch (Liam Neeson).
Such a cookie cutter plot would require that the characters have some depth to make up for it, but no effort is made: the characters are all either cardboard cutouts, or they veer from one type of cardboard to another based on whatever is convenient. Liam Neeson’s role starts out fine and quickly becomes so one-note that if he was constantly hissing “I’m evil, bitch,” in place of his actual lines, nothing of value would be lost. Charlize Theron’s mysterious highly skilled gunslinger with a dark past is reduced to little more than a damsel in distress begging to be forgiven by act three, probably so that MacFarlane’s self-insert protagonist, Albert Stark would look more like a hero. MacFarlane constantly evades the issue of Albert’s failings (cowardice, poor physical ability, lack of confidence, shallowness), and as a result, the character never grows. In nearly every conflict Albert is the one in the right, and whenever outlaws that have already been established to be infamously dangerous come up against him, all the bullets suddenly miss him and he always comes out of it consequence-free. The rampant inconsistency extends even to basic continuity issues.
Perhaps MacFarlane confused consistency with repetition, because MacFarlane regurgitates the same jokes, becoming increasingly tiresome as the same gags are played again, and again, and again, somtimes within mere moments of the previous repetition. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky kept a running count of the number of re-used jokes in his review for the A.V. Club. There are a pair of supporting characters played by Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman who dutifully pop up in the film every once in a while to rehash their one signature joke.
All of this, the joke recycling, the lack of internal consistency, the lack of overall quality – could be forgivable if the movie was at least funny. However, what few half-decent laughs exist tend to be buried underneath a deluge of shallow, uninspired ones, frequently going to the well of feces, sexual activity, gore, and random non-parodies of other, better movies. There’s little comedy here. Just Seth MacFarlane playing dress-up and swearing a lot. For two hours.