Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How the West Was Undone

Blazing Saddles has got to be the definitive comedy-western, right? Well, its existence didn't stop Seth MacFarlane from bringing us A Million Ways to Die in the West. Of course, any comparison to the Mel Brooks classic sets the bar unfairly high. But if your expectations begin from a more humble place, MacFarlane's movie does serve up its share of laughs -- more than I expected, in fact.

The comedy of A Million Ways to Die in the West generally sorts into one of two categories. First, there's the scatological. Even if you're familiar with Seth MacFarlane's other work (Family Guy, American Dad, Ted), you'll find there are a lot of poop jokes in the movie. It's enough to get tiresome after a while -- though I won't pretend I didn't laugh and/or cringe at some of them.

It's the other category that makes the movie truly fun: de-romanticizing the Old West. The movie does a hilarious job of showing the dark underbelly of the time period. It even pokes fun at how many things about the era, that the movies portray as great, were actually anything but. The modern, knowing wink on history never really gets old -- perhaps in part because the gags (and deaths) keep getting broader and broader.

The supporting cast is a lot of fun. Sarah Silverman gets to be her wonderful, filthy self as the town prostitute. Neil Patrick Harris is fun as one of the villains of the piece (the decidedly less serious one). And some of the bigger laughs come from actors you might not expect to see in a slapstick movie like this. You have an Academy Award winner in Charlize Theron, and another nominee in Liam Neeson. Both seem to be having a lot of fun cutting loose here. And then there are the cameos. It would be spoiling the fun to list them all, but suffice it to say that jokes range from hilarious miscasting to "you got him to show up for that?"

It's a pretty stupid movie overall, but it's a fun kind of stupid. I give A Million Ways to Die in the West a B.

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