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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ on Blogcritics.

AMWTDITWAfter the success of Ted, the box office failure of A Million Ways to Die in the West was a surprise to some. Did it mean Seth MacFarlane, the creator of long-running animated hits Family Guy and American Dad!, wasn’t cut out for the movies? Or should he only write scripts and voice animated characters, rather than star himself? For those who haven’t yet seen this work and are waiting to pass judgment, your chance will come as the film is released on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday.

Honestly, I enjoyed A Million Ways to Die in the West. It may be because I am already a fan of MacFarlane’s and get his sense of humor, but many jokes landed for me consistently throughout the movie, and there are frequent laugh-out-loud-worthy bits. Setting modern sensibilities in the Old West is not a completely original idea, but MacFarlane has much to say on the topic, and writes gags both obvious and less so. It’s probably the best effort along these lines since Mel Brooks' masterpiece, Blazing Saddles, though I wouldn’t say this movie is nearly as good as that classic. Yes, as some have suggested, many of the best gags are in the trailer, robbing viewers a bit of the viewing experience in context, but there are also quite a few good ones that are not, including when discussing the origin of the town of Old Stump.

MacFarlane is quite clever. The story, that of a man who is dumped by a vapid girl, then takes up with the wife of a notorious criminal, is simple to follow, and while predictable, works for the piece. The musical number in the movie is actually an adaptation of an old Stephen Foster melody; this makes good use of historical information and shows the care that went into development. And the main premise of the film, that American movies have romanticized an era that was dirty, dangerous, and not a lot of fun to live in, is solid. Perhaps this isn’t quite the makings of a good feature-length film, but MacFarlane does put forth a decent effort at it.

I will admit, A Million Ways to Die in the West drags at spots. I watched the unrated version (offered alongside the theatrical release on the disc), which weighs in at a running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, significantly longer than your average comedy. There are probably quite a few bits that could be eliminated to improve the pacing. At times, the funny comes almost completely unrelated to the story, much in the way that Family Guy does cut scenes. But, there wasn’t a time where I got completely bored and wished it would end.

The cast is terrific. MacFarlane himself does a serviceable job in the lead role, hanging with big dogs like Charlize Theron (Prometheus, Arrested Development), Liam Neeson (Taken, Schindler’s List), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Gone Girl), Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Big Love), Giovanni Robisi (Saving Private Ryan, Friends), and Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It Ralph, Masters of Sex), whom are all excellent. The cameos are awesome, including one from a classic 80s (actually, 1990) movie you probably won’t see coming, but is likely the best get possible for this particular movie.

The extras are decent enough. There are lots of alternative and deleted scenes, including a different opening and closing. There’s a ten minute behind-the-scenes featurette that is interesting, as well as a gag reel and a focus on locations. Theron gamely shows up for the commentary alongside MacFarlane and co-writers / executive producers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. The cameos are also highlighted.

Overall, while not the best comedy movie I’ve seen recently, A Million Ways to Die in the West is worth watching. It could use a bit of an edit, but the concept and many of the jokes are solid. I hope MacFarlane is allowed to try again, because while this effort may not quite be as great as one might hope, it has the ingredients which, which fine-tuned, could be something really special.

A Million Ways to Die in the West will be available on disc this coming Tuesday from Universal.

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