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Seth MacFarlane has always baffled me. The creator of hit animated TV shows Family Guy and American Dad made his first foray into motion pictures with 2012’s Ted. Like his TV shows, Ted featured some truly inspired comedic moments, but it suffered from an abundance of lowbrow, toilet humor. Seth MacFarlane is occasionally quite clever, but his creativity is often ruined by his excessive use of lazy gross out gags. This is exactly the case with A Million Ways to Die in the West, a comedy that is frustrating only because its occasional hilarious moments give a hint to the comedy goldmine that this should have been.

Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a sheep farmer in late 19th century Arizona. It’s a dangerous place to live and death can appear around any corner. After Albert cowardly talks his way out of a fight, he is dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Depressed and sick of the dangers of the West, Albert is about to leave town when he meets Anna (Charlize Theron). She sympathizes with him and even helps him prepare for a duel against Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Louise’s new boyfriend. But Anna is secretly married to Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the most dangerous man in the territory and he is none too happy to discover Albert’s relationship with her.

Between the duel with Foy and the conflict with Leatherwood, the screenplay by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild feels like it’s trying to shove two different stories into one film. Because of this, the film overstays its welcome. Just as it appears to be reaching its finale, it goes on for an additional 20 minutes. One of the conflicts in the film should have been reduced to a minor subplot to prevent this. Still, it’s always refreshing to see a new western film and the multiple gunfights and duels are a joy to watch.

But the most glaring problem in the film is the humor. There are long stretches of time without any laughs at all and when they do arrive, most of them are incredibly juvenile. Raunchy humor can be great if it’s even remotely clever or delivered well (just look at films like Superbad or This is the End), but MacFarlane and his cowriters rely on this type of humor like a crutch, resorting back to fart and poop jokes once they run out of any remotely clever humor. The only truly funny moments arise from the film’s cameos. While they are definitely fun and amusing, relying too heavily on them to garner laughs isn’t a good comedic strategy.

In his first major onscreen appearance, MacFarlane holds his own and successfully brings an aura of charisma to his character. He and Theron have great chemistry together and it’s their interactions together that bring the film its undeniable sweetness. The film ultimately ends on a heartwarming note and while it’s enough to make viewers feel good, it’s not enough to excuse the lazy screenwriting. A Million Ways to Die in the West has a number of hearty laughs, but they are overshadowed by the onslaught of immature, unfunny humor. Fans of MacFarlane’s previous works will find a lot to love here; everyone else will be rolling their eyes in between the humorous moments that this film has to offer.

A Million Ways to Die in the West receives 1.5/4

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