My family lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico from January of 1991 to July of 1992. I was only 5 years old when we arrived and 6 when we left so I really can’t say that I remember that much about Carlsbad, beyond the fact that my mom was always worried about rattlesnakes, I was excited about going to kindergarten and that, when my Dad announced that we were moving to Oklahoma, I cried and cried because, even at that age, I knew that meant I’d never get to see my friends again.
So yeah, some of my memories of New Mexico are a little traumatic. But are they as traumatic as watching Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West, a film that was shot in New Mexico and which is an early front-runner for claiming the title of worst of 2014?
Written by, produced by, directed by, and starring Seth McFarlane, A Million Ways To Die In The West tells the story of a sheep farmer named Albert (played by Seth McFarlane) who basically spends the entire movie whining about how much he hates living in the old west. His girlfriend leaves him for … well, look, the plot is stupid. You knew the plot was going to be stupid when you first saw the trailer earlier this year. You probably even knew the film wasn’t going to be that good. However, as bad as you might think the film is, it’s nothing compared to how bad the movie actually is. And the blame pretty much rests with Seth McFarlane.
Seth McFarlane has got cold, dead eyes and a curiously unlined face that, when taken along with his ever-present smirk, tends to make him look like one of those horror movie mannequins that comes to life once the store closes and murders horny teenagers. I understand that it’s always been a part of McFarlane’s act to present himself as being an asshole with a heart of gold but, for the most part, that works best when you only have to deal with his voice. The minute that you see his smug face, which is as immobile as his voice is expressive, the heart of gold part disappears. All your left with is an asshole who insists on telling the same joke over and over again. As both a comedic writer and director, McFarlane’s technique is to basically beat the audience into submission, dragging jokes out to such an interminable length that you eventually laugh because you simply cannot believe that you’re wasting so much time watching this crap. Some people have mistaken that technique for genius. Those people should be forced to watch A Million Ways To Die In The West in much the same way that Malcolm McDowell was forced to watch violent movies in A Clockwork Orange.
(And I write all of that as perhaps the only woman in the world who was not offended by Seth McFarlane singing The Boob Song at the Academy Awards, if just because the joke was clearly meant to be at the expense of McFarlane and the overage frat boys who seem to make up his fan base.)
A Million Ways to Die In The West is full of familiar faces. Liam Neeson goes totally overboard as the film’s villain. Neil Patrick Harris, as usual, is fun to watch, or at least he is until he’s forced to take part in one of McFarlane’s trademark endless musical numbers. Eventually, Harris’s character gets slipped a laxative and it’s just as disgusting as it sounds. Giovanni Ribisi plays McFarlane’s best friend and his joke is that he’s a Christian (yes, Seth takes on Christianity — what a rebel!) and that his girlfriend (Sarah Silverman, who deserves better) is a prostitute who is willing to have sex with everyone but him. Amanda Seyfried has the thankless task of playing McFarlane’s girlfriend while Charlize Theron plays the enigmatic woman who teaches Seth how to shoot a gun. (Theron gives a far better performance than this movie deserves and it was hard not to wish that the entire film had just been about her character.) There are also several celebrity cameos — Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Lloyd, and even Jamie Foxx show up.
But, ultimately, the entire film is about Seth McFarlane. He wrote it, he directed it, and he stars in it. Seth McFarlane dominates this film and that’s the problem. What might be slightly amusing in a 22-minute cartoon is not going to be funny enough to sustain a nearly two-hour film. For a rambling and often aimless film like A Million Way To Die In The West to succeed, it needs a star who is both skilled at comedy and likable enough that he’ll be able to anchor the mayhem. (Seth Rogen, for instance.) Instead, we’re given a smirking Seth McFarlane and the end result is a film that somehow manages to be both forgettable and a disaster.
Now, you may be wondering how I ended up watching this film. Well, originally I wasn’t planning on ever seeing it but then I started to read reviews about how terrible it was and I was like, “This is a film that I definitely need to see for myself, so that I can see if the film is actually a misunderstood masterpiece or if it’s a film that I’m going to have to keep in mind when I’m compiling my annual list of the year’s worst films.” (Plus, when I arrived at the theater, The Fault In Our Stars was sold out.) But anyway, I sat through it and I forced my sister Erin to watch it with me and I think Erin may be on the verge of finally forgiving me.
Finally, what was more traumatic? Leaving behind my friends or watching this movie?
Too close to call.