A Million Ways to Die in the West Review: Better Off Dude
We like to think that nerds have taken over the world, and that the days of being judged based on Cro-Magnon violence and masculine peacocking are over. We’re wrong of course. Global politics still hinge on who’s willing to act like the biggest maniac and our ability to perpetuate the species still has an inordinate amount to do with the comparative sweetness of our abs. But at least we finally live in an era when people don’t carry guns around with them all the time and… oh crap, just forget it.
In any case, Seth MacFarlane understands just how little the world has changed, but he’s a little smug about it in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Like many “us vs. them” nerd allegories, the jocks are all dumb assholes and the geeks are all innocent, intelligent (or at least harmlessly doofy) romantics who are destined to get the girl for no better reason than that they’re the star of the movie. Co-writer and director MacFarlane transposes these tropes from the contemporary social Petri dishes of high school and college back into the 19th Century frontier, but he uses the Old West the same way “The Flintstones” used its dinosaur-as-a-vacuum-cleaner gags: it’s just a go-to joke whenever the actual plot gets too mushy to make us laugh.
And that plot is pure mush: Seth MacFarlane plays Albert, a sheep farmer with a heart of gold and a constitution of jelly whose cowardice drives his girlfriend Louise, played by Amanda Seyfried, into the arms of Foy, a foppish local mustache merchant played by Neil Patrick Harris. Enter Anna, played by Charlize Theron, a tomboyish hottie who’s new in town and agrees to help Albert make Louise jealous but really they’re the ones falling in love and…
Wait, isn’t this the plot of Better Off Dead? What is it with this summer and the unofficial John Cusack remakes? First The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ripped off Say Anything wholesale and now this. What’s next? Is Transformers: Age of Extinction just a robot reimagining of The Grifters? Is The Expendables 3 going to fire all of its bullets over Broadway? Was there a hot tub time machine in X-Men: Days of Future Past and all just missed it?
The plot in A Million Ways to Die in the West is a little besides the point, which is a shame because there’s an awful lot of it. The gags are plentiful and frequently hilarious – here at last is a glorious return to the heyday of pratfalls – but everything hinges on a story audiences have seen before, and one which takes forever. Worse yet, after it ends A Million Ways to Die in the West just keeps going for what feels like half an hour because no one’s brought an outlaw played by Liam Neeson to justice and the movie can’t end until they finally get around to it.
But there’s a relaxing summertime laziness to Seth MacFarlane’s new comedy. A Million Ways to Die is in no rush to let you back out into the real world where macho preening still exists and no amount of whining will make it stop. It’s ironic that MacFarlane’s tirade against alpha males with an unreasonable amount of social currency takes the form of a childish power fantasy written and directed by a rich white guy who cast himself as a hero who is irresistible to Charlize Theron and right all the time. But the jokes are mostly funny, the songs are charming, the scatology is only occasionally off-putting and overall it’s a pretty good time at ye ol' air-conditioned nickelodeon.