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Seth MacFarlane saddles up for A Million Ways to Die in the West

There aren’t a million laughs in Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, but this cheerfully raunchy and (very) loosely structured Western send-up does boast its fair share of them. Given the spotty track record of Westerns at the box-office of late (The Lone Ranger, anyone?), it will be interesting to see if the film clicks with summer audiences.

MacFarlane, also the film’s co-writer, producer and director, stars as Albert, a timid sheep farmer in Old Stump Township, a burgeoning burg in Arizona, circa 1882. MacFarlane makes for an unusual and unconventional leading man – intentionally so.

Although clad in Old West duds, he looks out of place throughout – again intentionally so. His persona and attitude are unmistakably contemporary, and he operates almost outside of the movie, looking in and commenting, although he stops short of addressing the viewer directly. He’s not really playing the character, he’s being a personality. In this context, however, such an approach isn’t necessarily a drawback.

There isn’t much of a story here, and plenty of Western conventions and clichés that this film could easily have spoofed aren’t bothered with. Basically, A Million Ways to Die is a goofy, messy romp with MacFarlane as its ringleader.

He allows – and undoubtedly encouraged — his co-stars to cut loose and go with the flow, generously allotting each of them moments in the spotlight. Charlize Theron (as Albert’s new love interest), Amanda Seyfried (as Albert’s old love interest) and Liam Neeson (as black-clad gunslinger Clinch Leatherwood) play it straight and mostly straight-faced. Giovanni Ribisi (as Albert’s bumbling buddy), Sarah Silverman (as Ribisi’s love interest and the town’s busiest whore) and Neil Patrick Harris (as Seyfried’s moustache-twirling new beau) play it broad and bawdy. All of them appear to be having a ball, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Amid a barrage of jokes that range from inspired to excessive (no surprise), there are also several amusing cameo appearances – most of which are best unrevealed here so as not to spoil them. It is nice, however, to see such old pros as Rex Linn (town sheriff and film narrator), Jay Patterson (town doctor) and Wes Studi (stoic Indian chief) show up … and it’s truly a mark of deranged genius (or ingenious derangement) to cast Gilbert Gottfried as Abraham Lincoln. Well, sort of. !

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