"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a good movie, but doesn't hold up for the entirety of its run time. The first third of the movie is a joke-a-minute laugh fest, while the later acts of the film turn into relatively standard western fare. This is not entirely a bad thing, but the tonal change is quite significant.
First off, the biggest complaint from many critics was about Seth MacFarlane being in his own film. He was criticized for his acting chops and for the simple reason of them having to see his face. While I can say I have never really been a humongous fan of Seth, I can honestly say critics gave him a MUCH harder time than he deserved. In fact, I will go so far as to say he was very watchable, and while his character wasn't entirely likeable on every aspect of his doing (or with even that much relatability as a person), he was competent in his comic delivery, and many of his lines came across with the same timing you would expect from his style of comedy. If you're familiar with "Family Guy" (like it or hate it), then you know what to expect.
At least, for the first third of the story. The film's main comedy comes in the first act, where Seth's character Albert is essentially playing a pretty self-aware person of all the dangers, ironies, and stupidities of living in the "American West." You get the impression that he's playing a person who is a bit ahead of his time, or stuck out of time, almost like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future, Part III". After the initial story has been set up involving Albert's breakup with his girlfriend and his following relationship with Anna (Cherlize Theron), who just happens to be the wife of dangerous gunslinger, Clinch (Liam Neeson), the movie takes on a more standard western approach with the majority of the comedy grounding itself, and even at times making way for a little drama.
Now, I say all of this not with negativity, because the film is actually quite fun and good. The tonal change in the film is apparent as it attempts to follow more in the footsteps of a light-hearted comedy western in the likes of "The Frisco Kid", instead of what many people initially thought it would be - a natural follow up to Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."
"A Million Ways to Die in the West" comes nowhere close to the levels of genius that "Blazing Saddles" was. In fact, I wouldn't even compare "Million Ways" to "Saddles". The film I most closely could compare the tone to would be "The Wedding Crashers". In that film, and much like this one, the majority of the fun comes from the first act of the film. But with many comedies of the sort, a story has to take place. Amidst that story, great comedy can be nurtured and grown without ever really letting up. But both films got bogged down a little with the real-life natures that the beginning of the films didn't necessarily direct itself toward.
When I'm watching a film OR reviewing a film, the last thing I EVER want to think is "This film was not what it could have been," unless it's based on another source material like a book or comic. Otherwise, the film is what it is. "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is what it is, but I felt there were quite a few moments in the second act of the film where many more jokes (and the timing of them) could have benefited the slower nature (and at times, more dramatic tone) of the film.
The third act of the film, involving Indians and a shoot-out, is more "entertaining" than "hilarious", but again I say this not in malice, but in actual liking of the film. I just felt the later portions of the film could have benefited more with staying in the tone of the first act, and giving Liam Neeson more jokes could have lightened up those darker moments. But, that's just me. If I had known the film was going to be a more straight-up western, then the jokes would have been more of a cherry on top than the entire apple filling that felt a bit empty toward the end.
Seth MacFarlane the actor is better than people give him credit for. His chemistry with Cherlize Theron was actually pretty good. Liam Neeson was threatening, but could have been a more comic-centric character with how the film was presented and advertised (as a "Blazing Saddles"-like western, which it is not). Some of the best fart jokes I've seen in movies. Funny bar fight. Disgusting sex jokes. Humorous, self-awareness of the old "American West". Standard western movie themes for the later half of the movie could throw off many viewers expecting a laugh-a-minute riot throughout. A lot of cameos. Catchy "mustache" song and end credits song. Stay for the end of the credits.
Final star rating: