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A Million Ways to Die in the West 

click to enlarge How the West Was Weird: Frontier life may have been no joke, but in MacFarlane's hands, it's good for a million laughs.

How the West Was Weird: Frontier life may have been no joke, but in MacFarlane's hands, it's good for a million laughs.

I should probably watch "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" to learn more about black holes. I'd like to write that Seth MacFarlane is a human black hole sucking all the talent from the universe, but I'm not sure that's how black holes work. Here are a few things I do know about the disproportionately gifted actor, animator, comedian, writer, producer, director, humanitarian, singer, pianist and composer:

  • "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" wouldn't exist without MacFarlane. Honest. It was his idea, and he put his own money into it.
  • Since 2008, he's been the highest-paid television writer in the world.
  • He turned pro when he was 9, publishing a weekly comic strip in his hometown paper.
  • He studied under Frank Sinatra's vocal coach and has sung at Carnegie Hall.
  • His directorial debut, Ted, is the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time.
  • He's widely recognized for his work on behalf of gay rights.
  • On 9/11, he was scheduled to return to LA from Boston on the plane that flew into the North Tower, but missed his flight because of a hangover.
  • All of the above notwithstanding, Seth MacFarlane is an atheist.

Clearly, the question is what can't this guy do? You may answer, "Host the 85th Academy Awards without stirring up controversy." That's a bad thing? Oh, and he was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar that year.

The answer most definitely is not writing, directing and starring in a meta-western so gut-busting it makes Blazing Saddles look like Unforgiven. Ignore the reviews. This is genius.

MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer who can't believe how much life sucks in Arizona circa 1882, and around whom increasingly absurd and surreal things happen for 116 inspired minutes. He's essentially a fellow with 21st-century sensibilities marooned in the old West, a time and place MacFarlane clearly believes has been romanticized by Hollywood to the point of lunacy.

That's the film's brilliant twist. It's not just another genre spoof, but a laceratingly honest look at how appallingly dull, dumb and dangerous frontier existence was. A Million Ways to Die in the West isn't about bad guys so much as bad hygiene, schools, medical care, living conditions, fashion and entertainment options, the last being virtually limited to things you can do in a saloon/whorehouse.

And a lot of entertaining things are done there. Sarah Silverman is worth the price of admission by herself. Of course, she's never by herself, since she plays a prostitute who'll do anything for a nickel but insists that she and her meek geek BF (Giovanni Ribisi) save themselves for marriage. She's never been dirtier or more hilarious.

Also stellar are Gilbert Gottfried as a Lincoln impersonator, Neil Patrick Harris as the proprietor of a swank boutique specializing in preposterous mustache-care products, and Charlize Theron as a stranger who hits it off with our hero and offers to teach him how to shoot.

A Million Ways is that rare picture that's even better than its ads hope to convince you it is, a wildly singular creation from a wildly singular artist. The dialogue will have you blowing Pepsi out your nose, while the cinematography and score will flash you back to Technicolor oaters of the '50s.

On top of a bar fight that's an instant classic and the finest poop-in-the-street scene since Bridesmaids, the film has a million unhinged gags, almost all of which hit their mark. MacFarlane gives us old cowpoke tropes viewed through a lucent new lens. A spectacularly naughty place to visit where no one in their right mind would want to live, the West has never been this wild.

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Rick Kisonak

Rick Kisonak

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Rick Kisonak is a film reviewer for Seven Days.

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What others are saying (5)

LA Weekly A Million Ways to Die in the West: Seth MacFarlane Proves (Almost) Worthy of Mel Brooks Comparisons We're still adjusting to Seth MacFarlane as a big-screen star. Not just because his breakneck, absurdist humor often demands that viewers pause and rewind, but because the man himself looks like a hand-inked cartoon, with his black, pupil-less eyes and an alabaster baby face that, lacking cheekbones that could carve... by Amy Nicholson 05/28/2014
2 more reviews...
Portland Mercury A Dead Horse Here are A Million Ways to ruin the western. by Ned Lannamann 05/28/2014
Creative Loafing Tampa A Million Ways To Die at the Multiplex Seth MacFarlane follows up Ted with a tepid Western comedy. by Joe Bardi 05/29/2014

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