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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Pretty often someone asks me what I think about a movie like Seth McFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” My answer: I don’t think about movies like this.

I’ve said all this before.  But just to reiterate: that doesn’t mean I don’t watch movies like “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” or that I don’t enjoy watching them. I do. It’s just that thinking about this kind of movie doesn’t make much sense. A lot of movies are enhanced by reflection and critical analysis; dumb comedies decidedly are not. You just spoil the fun; it’s like critically analyzing a birthday party clown’s routine. I’d venture a guess that McFarlane doesn’t want you to think about his movies.  He wants you to watch them, and laugh, and forget about them, at least until the next time you need to watch something and laugh.  And that’s okay with me.

And so it doesn’t make much sense to try and muster 800-1000 words about a movie I’d rather not spoil by thinking about.  Did I laugh? Yes, but not quite as much or as often as I expected I would. Here are a few hesitant… thoughts about “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

It’s as vulgar and gross as you’d expect a Seth McFarlane film to be. There are a lot of jokes about sex and poop, and several cartoonishly violent deaths. (The West is a dangerous place, after all.) McFarlane loves to wade in to issues that movies generally sidestep (that was the whole premise behind “Ted,” after all.)  Here, he raunchily examines the romantic relationship between a prostitute and pristine piano player. If you’ve ever watched an old Western and wondered, “what’s it like to stay faithful to a women who has sex with other men all all day long?”  this movie is tailor-made for you.

As full as it is with gross-out jokes (and they are a dime a dozen here) it would be a stretch to call “A Million Ways to Die” offensive in any meaningful way. Everyone — Native people, women, piano players — are treated with respect.  All of the offensive stuff is on the surface.  Underneath is actually a pretty sensitive movie.  Even drugs are sort of mostly frowned on. The main character has two experiences with drugs.  Both are bad. Hilarious, but not of the “hey kids! Drugs are cool” variety.  More of the “Hey kids! Drugs seriously mess with your head in scary ways!” variety.

Surprisingly, “A Million Ways to Die” has a conventional, maybe even old-fashioned, plot.  A loser of a guy (McFarlane) somehow finds himself challenging the bad guy to a duel the loser will never survive.  The spunky (hot) sidekick has a week to get him ready, which seems impossible.  Along the way, they fall in love, and everything comes into question. Wait, wasn’t that basically the plot of “Back to the Future Part III?”

I love that McFarlane included long aerial shots of Monument Valley with music that sounds like it was composed as an advertisement for America’s National Parks.  It’s something I’ve laughed at in westerns for a while now.  Even in an extremely dark film like “The Searchers,” there are establishing shots scored so cheerfully they just make you want to take a deep breath of that fresh air, jump and shout, “Gee!  Isn’t America GREAT!?”

Overall, I guess I didn’t laugh as often as I expected to, and it’s not one I feel any need to see again.  But I didn’t groan much, either; most of the jokes hit their target, they just don’t hit very hard, I guess. I wouldn’t recommend that you seek it out, but if you’re ever at the end of a long day, at the end of a long week, and you just want to watch something harmless, forgettable, with occasional laughs and a general spirit of goofiness,  “ A Million Ways to Die in the West” will do.

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Posted in All Reviews.

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