By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
‘Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane graduated to movie-mogul status with 2012’s “Ted,” a boffo hit he scripted and directed. For a guy who can write his own ticket at the moment, he made an interesting choice for a follow-up: a Western.
Sort of a Western, anyway. Not exactly a “Blazing Saddles”-style spoof, and certainly not a straight oater, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a very odd comedy.
MacFarlane himself plays the central role, a tenderfoot sheep rancher by the name of Albert Stark. Albert lives in a crummy little town in the vicinity of Monument Valley, whose cinematically hallowed buttes are in as many shots as MacFarlane can manage.
The movie’s got a surprisingly coherent storyline. Albert is dumped by his ladyfriend (Amanda Seyfried), who promptly takes up with the owner (Neil Patrick Harris) of the town’s mustache-grooming parlor.
There’s a new gal in town, a sharpshooter named Anna (Charlize Theron). She comforts our hero, but she’s got a secret: Her husband (Liam Neeson, enjoying himself), a very bad hombre, is due in town shortly. He kills people.
MacFarlane’s inclination is to repeat jokes. For instance, he never tires of reminding us that Albert’s buddy (Giovanni Ribisi) is a trembling virgin who doesn’t mind that his fiance (Sarah Silverman) is a prostitute.
To give MacFarlane credit, he does nurture a few running gags along the way. His naughty-boy enthusiasm for politically incorrect humor leads to some oh-no-you-didn’t zingers, and allows the great American Indian actor Wes Studi to appear in a send-up of every mystical-Indian cliché from moviedom.
MacFarlane cannot resist pee-pee humor. And when it comes to laxatives playing a role in the plot, well, tighten your belts. (This scene definitively proves that Neil Patrick Harris is game for anything.)
As in “Ted,” MacFarlane tries to set his humor within a semblance of emotional reality, but it doesn’t work as well here. His presence is part of that. With his unlined face and button eyes, MacFarlane tends to float around like a wisecracking host, slightly above the action but still commenting on it.
The bedrock idea of the movie — that the real American West was not romantic but a fairly miserable world spawned by violence — is worth exploring, even as comedy. But there’s little sense of why MacFarlane wanted to look at this world. And goldurnit, the movie should just be funnier.
“A Million Ways to Die in the West” (two stars)
Seth MacFarlane rides to the frontier, and stars in his own scattered comedy. He plays a sheep farmer, disgusted with how miserable the West is, who loses one ladyfriend (Amanda Seyfried) and unsuspectingly takes up with the wife (Charlize Theron) of a gunslinger (Liam Neeson). Some running gags pay off, but there’s not much sense of why MacFarlane wanted to do a Western.
Rating: R, for language, subject matter
Opens: Friday at Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Woodinville and Cascade Mall.