I’m “biast” (con): the “funny” bits in the trailer were not funny
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
If timing in comedy is everything, then Seth MacFarlane’s timing with A Million Ways to Die in the West is really off the rails.
I’m not talking about the comic timing of the alleged jokes in this overlong, underfunny, and shamelessly self-indulgent flick. No amount of tinkering with timing could repair the cesspool collection of done-to-death comedy clichés that range from “might have been funny the first time they were deployed in cinema, in 1912” to “might be hilarious to those not quite finished with potty training” to “oh my god, dude, not funny ever.” For this is two full hours of “deadly” farts, explosive defecation, ridiculing of “ugly” women based on nothing but their physical appearance, ridiculing of men who are in love with sex workers, ridiculing of men who are emasculated by women who are more skilled in manly talents, “retarded” sheep, offhand racism, suggestions of oral rape, allusions to sheep rape, allusions to child rape… Need I go on?
This all plays out against a late-19th-century Western backdrop about as authentic as a painted backdrop the Roadrunner would prop up against a boulder to fool Wile E. Coyote. But authenticity was never going to be the point of this flick.
The point — which is connected to the lousy timing — is entirely about director, producer, writer, and star Seth MacFarlane (Movie 43, Ted) lamenting the epic romantic tragedy of Seth MacFarlane. His “character,” Albert, whines about the “general depressing awfulness of the West,” but his ongoing litany of all the many ways the West wants to kill you is but a barely disguised dirge about how the women he wants are always with bad boys when they should be with him. Because he’s such a great guy and why can’t they see that? He deserves the most beautiful, most desirable women. Sure, he may be clumsy, untalented, a self-declared nerd, and nothing more than a sheep farmer; he admits he’s not even a good sheep farmer. But he’s nice!
Does this sound creepily familiar?
The course of this epic will take Albert on a quest to win back the woman he loves, Louise (Amanda Seyfried: Epic, Les Misérables), from the colossal jerk, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris: The Smurfs 2, American Reunion), she left him for. (Foy’s major crime — apart from sleeping with the woman who rightfully belongs to Albert, no matter her wishes in the matter — would appear to be that he is a successful businessman. That’s it.) Then Albert transfers his affections to Anna (Charlize Theron: Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman), except she’s married to the biggest bad boy in the territory, gunslinger Clinch (Liam Neeson: The Lego Movie, Non-Stop), and isn’t that just like the world, all the best women with all the worst guys, and not with the worthy Albert?
It’s a foregone conclusion from the moment they meet that of course Albert, who “always smells like sheep,” will end up with Charlize Theron, generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women in the world. (Shut up. I’m spoiling nothing. You also already know that her character, in addition to being physically gorgeous, is smarter, wiser, much more confident, and all around infinitely more awesome than Albert; that she is, in a phrase, out of his league.) He deserves her, you see. Because that’s what these movies are about, no matter what they pretend to be about. They’re about validating the romantic fantasies of nerdboy filmmakers who, now that they have power and money, can hire the most beautiful women in the world to pretend to fall in love with them. (Theron also brings impeccable comic timing, even with the sometimes literally shitty jokes, and generally makes the unpleasant, ungenerous, screen-hogging MacFarlane look far better than he deserves to. And he still doesn’t look that great.) That these movies accidentally also end up validating the romantic fantasies of ordinary guys watching by reassuring them that yes, supermodels love ordinary schlubs? Mere side effect.
And yet, that’s what happens at Teh Movies. Over and over and over and over and over and over again. And here it is again. It’s also no spoiler to guess which segment of the vast potential audience will find this simply amazing.
Not that there was any saving this movie. Even in a glorious parallel universe where women filmmakers bore moviegoers with their romantic fantasies in the same proportion that men do, this is still a deeply terrible film peopled by actors with little chemistry looking uncomfortable as they engage in random grossouts.
But A Million Ways to Die in the West has the bad luck of being released at just the right wrong moment in our dimension to underscore how banal and yet also insidious this immeasurably wearisome trope has become.
I want to be perfectly clear here, because I refuse to let myself be misunderstood. It is not MacFarlane’s fault that we’re watching this tedious and oft-told tale less than a week after a young man went on a killing spree prompted by the fact his reality did not match an unattainable fantasy that Hollywood had sold him as eminently reasonable and attainable. I want to be perfectly clear that I am not blaming MacFarlane for anything other than being a whinging entitled self-centered jerk who is forcing us to sit through his romantic fantasy just like uncountable other insecure male filmmakers have been doing for the past century. I’m blaming MacFarlane only for being so unoriginal as to give us a movie that’s the same as a million other movies we’ve seen, and for not even bothering to be pretend that it’s anything other than his own personal wank material.