Hollywood takes great pride and joy in “pushing the envelope”. So much so that you’re not likely to get as much critical acclaim if your TV show or movie doesn’t try something over the top: Just a little more nudity, cursing, violence, or general grossness than has been generally allowed in the past.
Two of my favorite shows are “The Walking Dead” and “Fargo”, both of which would have been R rated and never allowed near TV when I was a kid. However, let me suggest something that today’s Hollywood creators would find shocking:
Just because you can push the envelope doesn’t mean you have to push the envelope.
And so we come to “A Million Ways To Die In The West”. This picture was made by Seth MacFarlane, who’s well known for being as offensive as possible in his very funny show, “Family Guy”. What I did not expect—and this doesn’t spoil the plot—was to actually see a sheep penis, and to actually get a good look at a hat full of diarrhea.
Was it shocking? Yes, just as the F-bomb used to be shocking before it became boring in its overuse. Was it gross? Well, yeah. Was it funny? Did it add anything to the movie? Just the opposite. The same goes in other areas: For instance, a scene involving a huge ice block was funny, until we see blood and gore splatter. Then—not so much.
Sometimes the envelope is there for a reason.
MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer named Albert who falls for a mysterious newcomer in town, played by the scene-stealing Charlize Theron. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s boyfriend is Clinch, the deadliest gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson, who sadly has little to do.) Albert must find his courage and get over his ex-girlfriend even as townspeople fall like dominos around him because there are, after all, a million ways to die in the West.
The cast is overall wonderful, especially Theron and Neil Patrick Harris, and we get some great cameos along the way (the best of which is spoiled in some trailers.) While some viewers didn’t like MacFarlane in his role, I thought he did well playing the straight man as the smart but naïve Albert.
As for the plot, I got a little whiplash: Part was a pure parody, but in the other parts MacFarlane plays it serious. Sometimes we’re looking at amazing Western scenery, other times a hooker’s telling her virginal boyfriend exactly what she’s doing to earn extra money. Much as MacFarlane enjoys his drug jokes and potty humor, I think he’s also sentimental at heart.
So, would I recommend “A Million Ways To Die In The West”? Yep: It’s mostly fun and funny—if you can stomach it.
Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&M’s, but not the brown ones. I won’t be eating the brown ones for a while.
Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&M’s. There’s always cinematography or music.