There have been a few brave attempts at resurrecting it, but nothing modern could surpass Clint Eastwood’s classic anti-western of 1992, Unforgiven.
Trust America’s oldest, most abrasive teenager, Seth MacFarlane, who managed to insult everyone at last year’s Oscars, to turn holy (Western) cows into hamburgers, and deliver a really funny send-up of the genre.
MacFarlane turns the Wild West on its head. But at the same time, A Million Ways To Die In The West still features a strange romantic and nostalgic yearning for the good old days when men were still men and women tamed horses. And even though he sends up every cliché in the book – especially a virgin cowboy whose girlfriend, the local whore, refuses him sex out of wedlock – MacFarlane is still respectful of the genre.
The story concerns a sheep farmer Albert, played by a droll, amused and naive MacFarlane, who works for his unsympathetic dad while life is passing him by. He manages to invoke the wrath of the local town bully in a send-up of High Noon’s classic gun battle that will have you in stitches. He is a metrosexual Shane who lives honestly and longs for the right woman to share his life with. They will have to buy a new bed, however, as his current quarters can scarcely accommodate one of his sheep.
Along comes stunning blonde Anna (in the shape of Charlize Theron), and even the way she gets off her horse already starts Albert’s blood rushing, and that’s before he notices her nonchalant way of ignoring a bar brawl while carrying on with her business. Soon, Albert falls in love with her. But as it always happens in this kind of black comedy, there is a brutal husband somewhere on the outskirts of town who will, one day, ride into the hero’s life and wreak havoc.
A Million Ways To Die In The West is a full-blooded effort that sticks to the rules of the Western and honours them in its own way while quietly sniggering at an innocence gone by.
From the typical titles to the pulsating cowboy music to old toppies who are mercilessly killed – there is a feeling of nostalgia underlined by slapstick.
Be aware of strong language and some typical MacFarlane jokes that have been designed to offend. But it is great to see Theron in such a relaxed and funny mood.
A problem with this movie is a long, vulgar toilet joke. It carries on forever and one can even see the actors cringing. Toilet jokes are not necessarily part of the Western’s history (although the beans scene in Blazing Saddles remains a classic). Fortunately, there is also a hilarious dance sequence that pokes fun at Paint Your Wagon that makes one forget the toilet humour.
The film is definitely amusing, but it is an acquired taste.