A Million Ways to Die in the West arrives based on the surely bogus proposition the movie-going public has any interest in Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane as a live-action leading man, rather than just providing the voices for his animated babies.
But bogus or not, that’s precisely what we get here, as the off-screen alter-ego of Peter, Stewie and Brian Griffin lives out his feeble, often embarrassing movie star fantasy, in a witless cowboy comedy which is to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles what John Wayne Gacy was to the clown profession.
It’s a fantasy in which he goes toe-to-toe with Liam Neeson. In which every second utterance from Charlize Theron’s lips is to pump more hot air into his endlessly expanding cranium by telling him what a great guy he is. In which he gets to be drug buddy and sole white pal to the Native American populace. In which he turns down Amanda Seyfried for Theron.
With MacFarlane not just taking the starring role of sheep farmer Albert Stark but also directing, producing and co-writing A Million Ways to Die in the West, this feels like an earthquake of Hollywood ego as rarely felt since Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich decided to cast himself opposite his then-inamorata Cybill Shepherd in 1975 musical debacle At Long Last Love.
Even in that instance, Bogdanovich realised he would simply be feeding himself to the ravenous critics and ended up casting Burt Reynolds instead. In contrast, MacFarlane tosses himself straight onto the barbecue, pausing only to first make sure his detractors are all armed with the sharpest steak knives imaginable.
This is not so much a movie as it is two long hours of its director-star masturbating into a cup and throwing the contents back into his own face, lasciviously licking up any stray globules as if they were creamy gifts straight from the gods. Which is a pretty crude analogy admittedly, but crudity dominates A Million Ways to Die in the West like a drunken boor dominates a barroom debate.
So unrelentingly basic is the majority of the humour on show that it’s hard to believe three grown men (MacFarlane and regular cohorts Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin) devoted hours of their professional existence to writing the script in which it appears. The mind boggles at the thought of the trio pitching a scene of Neil Patrick Harris defecating into a hat to the apparently highly receptive Universal hierarchy.
Apart from the hat-shitting, we’re also treated to Sarah Silverman with spunk smeared on her face, a fire hose of a sheep’s penis, a lethal fart, and a deluge of F-words trying and failing to cover for the fact most of the jokes fall flat as a toppled-over tombstone. You’ll find yourself wishing you were watching something even one iota funnier, like Shallow Hal or your own mother’s funeral.
Of the starry cast, Neeson and Seyfried both wisely elect to phone it in, while Theron is as vapid as a sport star’s trophy wife in a love interest role you can bet her director was doing backflips while casting. There are a couple of notable cameos too, as MacFarlane piggybacks on audience affection for the work of other filmmakers in order to elicit any kind of positive response.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is smug and it’s charmless. In fact, the only thing smugger and more charmless than the film itself is MacFarlane’s performance; by the time the final showdown arrives, you’ll be hoping Neeson’s black-clad outlaw fills the shameless narcissist as full of holes as a block of Swiss cheese.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is released in the UK on 30 May