By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 28, 2014 at 11:16AM
On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Seth MacFarlane, who stars in, directed and co-wrote "A Million Ways to Die in the West," tried to get the jump on critics by writing the headlines for their negative reviews in advance:
MacFarlane did the same before the release of "Ted," but that movie ended up getting surprisingly good reviews for a story about a foul-mouthed, sexually rapacious teddy bear. With "A Million Ways," it seems MacFarlane has miscalculated in the other direction. The reviews aren't just bad, which the self-styled provocateur would no doubt welcome, but deflated, worn down by the movie's sluggish parade of dull one-liners and MacFarlane's anti-charismatic turn in the leading role. (Turns out he's a better actor as a CGI bear.) Where Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" -- an inevitable point of comparison, and one by which MacFarlane's film fares extremely poorly -- used the Western to satirize the racism at the heart of American expansionism, "A Million Ways" is mostly interested in the fact that life in Arizona, 1882 was miserable and gross: There's a joke about a child bride losing her virginity just shy of 10, and a line where an awestruck woman observes, "People are living to 35 these days!" Although Joel McNeely's opening theme riffs on Elmer Bernstein's score for "The Magnificent Seven," MacFarlane shows little knowledge of or interest in the Western genre itself; Brooks sometimes lost himself in pastiche, but at least he knew what he was satirizing. There are a handful of gags that genuinely land, one involving the mythical appearance of a dollar bill, another Neil Patrick Harris' enunciation of the phrase "wrapped candies." What they have in common is that they don't involve MacFarlane, who greatly overestimates his appeal as a leading man, and they don't depend on competent direction to work. (A "Family Guy"-type reference that ought to bring down the house flops because of how poorly it's staged and cut.) Harris does great work as the mustachioed heavy, and Charlize Theron is nuanced and subtle in a movie that doesn't know how to handle either of those qualities.
Reviews of "A Million Ways to Die in the West"
Mike Ryan, ScreenCrush
It's interesting that Universal is promoting "A Million Ways to Die in the West," a film that is not funny, as a comedy. I suspect it has a lot to do with the human carnage we witness on screen being unbearable to watch, so the only way to desensitize an audience's eyes to what they’re about to witness is to somehow convince the viewer that what they're about to see is a comedy -- even though there is not one laugh to be had. No, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is much more important than that. In fact, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" may just be the most depressing two hours of narrative that this generation has ever witnessed on a movie screen.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Starring the writer-director in the lead role of a sheep farmer struggling to win back his girl in the wild frontier of Arizona circa 1882, the movie features MacFarlane's typical joke-a-minute method, with the occasional non-ironic stab at emotion or action sequence to satisfy his base of college stoners eager to embrace the freewheeling style. It's like the comedian has sped through the sets of countless Westerns, comedy guns blasting away, to the baffled amusement of anyone willing to pay attention. That tendency to blindly embrace MacFarlane's sloppiness has made him a very successful man, but with so many random attempts to make his audience laugh, it's no surprise that some of the jokes actually land.
Scott Foundas, Variety
From "Family Guy" to "Ted," we've come to expect the 40-year-old wunderkind to go for broke and, when he fails, to go down swinging (as in his valiant but misjudged paean to Hollywood cleavage at the 2013 Oscars). What you don’t expect from MacFarlane is a genteel, weightless genre parody that, even with its de rigueur parade of dick and fart jokes, is unlikely to offend anyone born after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
The moments of absurdity land with a wonderfully weird grace, while the desperately vulgar gags about sex and scatology echo and crash as though they were being uttered in a middle-school boys' restroom.
Drew McWeeny, HitFix
The biggest surprise here is just how long a stretch MacFarlane seems willing to allow without even trying for a joke. If the film was stronger overall, it would feel like a brave choice. Instead, it ends up making it feel like a film that is just too flabby.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
Unfortunately, MacFarlane simply cannot stop congratulating himself for his own cleverness. Since the premiere of "Family Guy," he has wielded a knowingly smug comic persona that dares the audience to be offended by his shamelessness and superiority. (In essence, if you don’t laugh at his oftentimes cruel and insensitive humor, you’re painted as the uptight one.)
Edward Douglas, Coming Soon
As much as there are aspects of "Million Ways to Die in the West" that work and MacFarlane proves himself a capable director at least in terms of making a Western, just overall it feels like a slog to anyone who isn't necessarily a fan of MacFarlane's as it just seems like the same old schtick MacFarlane always does and there are more jokes that aren't funny than those that are.
Amy Nicholson, Village Voice
MacFarlane wrote, directed, and stars in the ruthlessly funny "A Million Ways to Die in the West," yet despite it being head-to-tails his project, he sometimes feels layered on top of the film like Roger Rabbit on a live-action world.
Drew Taylor, the Playlist
For much of the movie, MacFarlane mugs with about as much subtlety as one of his cartoon characters, and has two of the most gorgeous, smart vivacious women on earth squabbling over his affections. Even if you can suspend your disbelief it’s absurd and insulting because his character Albert is completely charmless and undesirable. There are at least a half dozen scenes between him and Theron where they're just laughing at each other's jokes.
John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
Though the film is hardly laugh-free, its uneven jokes appear to have breezed through a very forgiving editing process. "You really shouldn't drink and horse," Edward tells a soused Albert as he heads out on horseback -- a bizarre turn of phrase that presumably sounded funnier to somebody than the more sense-making "drink and ride." The leave-it-all-in approach leads to a nearly two-hour running time that looks all the more indulgent given how much invention "Blazing Saddles" packed into an hour-and-a-half.