If you’re a fan of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, Ted, or the recent reimagining of Cosmos, then you are a consumer of the ever-expanding media empire of Seth MacFarlane. With five more or less successful TV series under his belt, two more in the works, and his writer/director stamp on the highest weekend-grossing R rated comedy film ever made, Seth doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon and is considered a self-topping show business entrepeneur.
But last weekend this rich talent ran into a problem.
MacFarlane’s latest work, the 40 million dollar spoof western mouthful A Million Ways to Die in the West, has potentially flopped commercially and definitely failed critically. Why? It just isn’t funny enough (according to everyone whose opinion matters). The premise and cast, however, intrigued me and I therefore went and saw it.
It…isn’t great, if I’m being honest. There is an enormous amount of unfunny excrement and flatulence humour present here and it savagely undermines what could potentially have been a very uniquely observational comedy about a thusly untapped hilarity goldmine. The central joke at the heart of the film is, as the title reveals, the precious fragility of life in the otherwise overly romanticised Western setting. That, you should know, is a funny idea and is explored brilliantly. The jokes, as hit and miss as they already are, unfortunately suffer from a poor sense of comedy editing. What you get is a two hour long modern Family Guy episode, with jokes that drag on way longer than they should (Peter vs. The Chicken, anyone?). If you’ve seen a recent slice of MacFarlane’s most famous cartoon show, you’ll know what you’re in for; not lethal belly-laughs exactly, but a lot of…
Prepare your brain for a lot of “I see what you did there!” moments and your mouth for a lot of smirking half-smiles. Perhaps it’s true, we’ve finally all gotten over Seth MacFarlane. He just can’t make us laugh any more. So what’s my final score?
Why do I find myself defending so many of the films that people typically hate? Am I just a stubborn contrarian? No, in this case it’s something I can explain.
I fully admit that this movie did not make me laugh anywhere near as much as it clearly hoped it would. However, there are an enormous amount of other things to enjoy here even if the comedy doesn’t strike you right. There are beautiful classic visuals, a sweeping celebratory score, and a wonderful amount of “blink and you’ll miss them” cameos. I literally mean “blink and you’ll miss them”. Seth MacFarlane has swept together posse of hollywood friends and used them as background extras, the joke being that in any given crowd scene you’ll randomly notice…say…Ewan McGregor. It reminded me a lot of how Tim Burton spent almost his entire budget for Mars Attacks on rounding up the most noble award-winning actors he could find and making them spout the most ridiculous drivel in a silly over-the-top comedy about a 1950’s style alien invasion. What is that if not worth the price of a ticket?
Undeniably, though, this movie gets my approval for how much it reminded me of classic Mel Brooks comedies. The obvious connection that everyone has made is with Blazing Saddles. Sure, they’re concerned with the same place and time, but Blazing Saddles orbits its jokes around racism as depicts very broad comedic characters. To me A Million Ways to Die in the West is most aesthetically and substantively reminiscent of…
It may sound foolish to compare a western parody to a Robin Hood parody, but believe me when I say that I’m not wrong. From the glorious opening credits with the warm waltzing main theme music and colourful cartoony font to the lovingly choreographed musical dance numbers about “moustaches”, I was brought right back to the feeling of this 1993 VHS jewel.
Watching Robin Hood Men in Tights was never a ridiculously funny experience to begin with, as the jokes sometimes made you laugh and otherwise made you groan, but the childish silliness and cheesy commitment of everyone involved just made you love it. Well, that’s how I felt with A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s far from the funniest thing you’ll ever see, but is crafted by someone who clearly grew up watching and admiring the same material you did. It’s a cutely old-fashioned comedy film that happens to contain a lot of 21st century crudeness. Want proof?
After the film was over I turned to see who my fellow movie-goers were. It wasn’t 19 year old Gavin who lives with his mum and his pregnant slapper girlfriend Lilly; both die hard fans of The Hangover movies cause they’re “like so funny and shit”. No, they were all 45 years of age or older. Many of them were likely retirees on a day out with their significant other, and every one of them beamed with joy after sitting through 2 hours or semen stain jokes and pedophilia gags. I love that, and will thusly forgive any humour shortcomings that the movie otherwise has.
Give Million Ways a try. If you love Robin Hood: Men in Tights, especially, it would be a mistake for you to miss it.