Seth MacFarlane has honed a potty-brained, quick-fire style of comedy in his animated television shows Family Guy and American Dad. Even if you don’t like the 40-year-old’s humour, and many don’t, you can at least appreciate its gleefully juvenile craft – scenes chockablock with sight gags, rapid-fire cutaways to hilariously absurd punchlines, painfully awkward pauses that last so long you eventually laugh, all of it wrapped in an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture that has made him a bro deity among the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic.
So it’s disappointing, and more than a little confusing, that his sophomore feature film is so plodding and lazy.
The success of Ted, his feature directorial debut starring Mark Wahlberg as a man who smokes pot with a living, foulmouthed teddybear, which earned more than $500-million worldwide, guaranteed that MacFarlane could do anything he wanted with his follow-up film.
Apparently inspired by Mel Brooks’s much funnier Blazing Saddles, MacFarlane chose to make a comic western.
MacFarlane stars as Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer trying to make it in the harsh life of the frontier in 1882. After chickening out of a gunfight, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for Foy, the smarmy owner of the Moustachery played by Neil Patrick Harris.
Thankfully, a fearsome gunslinger’s wife named Anna (Charlize Theron) shows up in town to teach Albert how to shoot and maybe, just maybe, find his inner confidence. He’ll need it for when the gunslinger, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) shows up ready to kill the varmint who’s been romancing his lady.
Meanwhile, Albert’s buddy Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) is patiently dating the town prostitute (Sarah Silverman). They’re Christians, so they’re waiting to have sex.
There’s plenty of poop jokes, fart jokes and penis jokes, none of them all that funny. There’s also a runaway slave shooting gallery, which shows MacFarlane’s willingness to offend.
Amazingly, there’s only one really good pop-culture reference. It involves a weather machine, but I won’t ruin it.
As is clear from the movie’s title, there are indeed innumerable ways to die on the frontier: a block of ice snapping loose and crushing a man, a bull charging out of nowhere, even a photograph can kill.
The laziness of the storytelling, however, is clear from the beginning. A gravelly voiceover introduces the film and is never heard from again; the debt Albert promised to pay off to get out of his first gunfight is somehow paid, although how is never made clear; a gash Albert gets on his forehead disappears the day later.
Most unforgivably of all to anyone familiar with MacFarlane’s usual rapid-fire comic pacing, is the long stretches without any jokes at all, or little more than tired ones.
Yes, there are a million ways to die in the west. Boredom shouldn’t be one of them.