Seth MacFarlane scores big again in his comedy western ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West.’ Framed with sweeping vistas of great plains and the sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, AMWTDITW brings to mind 1950’s Technicolor westerns such as John Ford’s ‘The Searchers,’ but rather than romanticizing the simplicity and nostalgia of frontier life in the latter part of the 19th century, the movie lampoons the Wild West through the cynical observations of timid sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane), who from start to finish disabuses us of our misconceived notions of the Old West by describing life in the frontier as a “disgusting, awful cesspool of despair” in which there are literally and figuratively 'a million ways to die' (including by flatulence). Like all the good western comedies such as 'Blazing Saddles,' 'Maverick' and 'Django Unchained,' the sensibilities of AMWTDITW are decidedly contemporary even if the setting is not.
Like an extended episode of ‘Family Guy’ with real actors in a western setting, AMWTDITW piles on the gross humor we've come to expect from MacFarlane while satirizing John Ford and Sergio Leone in equal measure. MacFarlane’s Albert is a sheep farmer, not the sheriff, outlaw, gunfighter or cattle rancher which typified the alpha male in westerns. Unlike his skills with a six-shooter, Albert’s whip-smart and biting commentaries throughout the movie are right on target and often quite humorous. As in his previous movie ‘Ted,’ what makes AMWTDITW funny are the colorful characters and situations, like Albert trying to back out of a gun duel or Ruth's (Sarah Silverman) insistence on maintaining her chastity until her wedding night with Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) when she’s a prostitute at the local saloon averaging 10 to 15 clients per day. The lovely Charlize Theron was great as Annie, a mysterious woman who came into town, and Liam Neeson filled the role of the movie's villain admirably, but it was recent Tony Award winner Neil Patrick Harris who shined as Foy, the dastardly mustache shop owner who stole Albert’s beloved Louise (Amanda Seyfried).
MacFarlane loves to throw in cameos and references in his movies. Without giving away too much, there’s a non sequitur from a popular 80’s sci-fi comedy movie starring Michael J. Fox and a cameo by Jamie Foxx as Django. Ryan Reynolds also made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, but that exasperated look on his face right before Liam Neeson dispatched him was priceless.