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Laughs? Far fewer than ‘a million’

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Louise, played by Amand Seyfried (left); Foy, played by Neil Patrick Harris; Albert, played by Seth Mac Farlane; and Anna, played by Charlize Theron, are shown in a scene from "A Million Ways to Die in the West," the new comedy from director, producer and co-writer MacFarlane, who plays a formerly cowardly sheep farmer who must put his newfound courage to the test.
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Liam Neeson as notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood in "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

Seth MacFarlane wants to be a movie star in the worst way.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” is result of this longing – a long comedy with long waits between jokes and longer waits between those that work.

Thus does his leading-man career begin and end with a “worst way” Western that’s basically an excuse for a guy with zero screen presence to lock lips with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron.

The voice and creative mind behind the animated “Family Guy” and the half-animated “Ted” makes what is essentially a dirty-mouthed Don Knotts comedy, a farce so lame it’s as if “Blazing Saddles” never happened or MacFarlane never saw it.

He plays Albert, a timid sheep rancher in 1882 Old Stump Township, located in the scenic Monument Valley of Arizona. His clumsiness with his sheep and his cowardice with the locals costs him his best girl (Amanda Seyfried). His pals, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Edward’s hooker girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) worry he’ll never get over that.

And then Anna (Theron), the moll of a desperado (Liam Neeson), ducks into town, laying low. She takes pity on the only guy in the Old West without a tan – Albert.

The running gag here is Albert’s profane irritation at all the ways you can get killed in the wild, careless, pre-antibiotic, pre OSHA, lawless, trigger-happy environment they all live in. That’s another reason Louise (Seyfried) dumps him.

“People are living to be 35 these days!” No need to rush into marriage. Not with the local moustache Lothario (Neil Patrick Harris) waiting in the wings.

Albert must find his mettle, learn to use a gun and take a spirit journey with some hallucinogen-equipped Indians (Wes “Geronimo” Studi is their leader) before he can get the girl.

There’s an ambitious barn dance scene set to Stephen Foster’s “If You’ve Only Got a Moustache” that works. And the Indians initiating the palest pale face bit provokes a grin.

But MacFarlane and his cast – including cameos by everyone from Ryan Reynolds to Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” anyone?) and Ewan McGregor – seem to think that merely saying a dirty word, showing a bodily fluid or demonstrating a bodily function is all it takes to earn a laugh.

And in the center of it all is the bland MacFarlane, co-writer, producer, director and star, and in none of those guises does he find enough jokes to fill a 2-hour “comedy.” Characters stiffly stand in the foreground exchanging unfunny lines that don’t advance the plot, while extras stand around behind them doing nothing funny either. A long, bloody barroom fight – more ways to die – has one decent gag in it.

In traditional Westerns, there was humor in the guy who hasn’t mastered the basics of Western life – riding, roping, shooting and drinking. Albert is plainly that guy, and isn’t the least bit amusing in his ineptitude.

Which leaves the actor who plays him wandering back behind the camera with his tail between his legs, facing just one question from moviedom:

When are you delivering “Ted 2”? Because “Million Ways” is strictly D.O.A.

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’

1 1/2 stars (Grade: D)

Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris

Directed by Seth MacFarlane, written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:56

MPAA rating: R for strong crude and sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug material

The movie opens this weekend at Carmike Sauk Valley 8 in Sterling. Go to www.carmike.com for showtimes.

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©2014 McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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