Seth McFarlane is riding on a huge wave of momentum with several hit animated shows and a directorial debut that broke records. To say that he has a lot to live up to in his sophomore film is an understatement. He swings for the fences in the parody western but never really gets it out of the park. It has a great supporting cast but they don’t offer any support to the movie. It all goes to Seth as no one is really able to join the fun. While it does offer some laughs, they are too far and between. For a comedy that aims to offer the bizarre and crazy, it’s relatively tame in comparison. There was simply too much Seth McFarlane for one movie.
Starting off, I have not been a fan of McFarlane’s animated hit Family Guy since it got cancelled in 2000 and came back in 2005. I am also not a fan of American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Despite not liking his TV shows, I really liked Ted and its simple concept. Having said all that, I still didn’t have high hopes for his next directorial effort but was willing to see it for myself. To be honest, it just wasn’t that funny at all. I’m a guy who’s open to a wide range of comedy, willing to give anything a chance. But this was a hit and miss affair with by far more misses than hits. The jokes were too all over the place leaving you laughing very sparingly. I went through lengths where I didn’t laugh at all or just let out mild chuckles. I hardly let out an uproarious laugh that had me in tears.
Seth tries too hard to include as many jokes as possible and it became a chore to sit through. Some of the jokes are predictable and can see the joke coming a mile away as the piss, fart and crap jokes were lazy. I knew that Seth would get peed on in one scene moments before it happened. It also doesn’t help that most of the better jokes were revealed in the trailers. There were no real surprises throughout and got to be incredibly boring as it dragged on. An overabundance of death also was tired as that was also shown in the trailers. It might have been funny the first time but gets considerably less funny the second and third time. Seth far too often goes to the same well, not straying too far away from his tired formula. Many of the jokes have already been told in a better way in previous comedies and he doesn’t really offer anything new.
Seth can be a good director when he has a clear idea of what he wants to do. The reason Ted worked so well because it was a simple story and a clear narrative. Toys coming to life are nothing new but having the toy be a pot smoking, beer drinking, and sex crazed lout was rather creative in its simplicity. Million does not have that distinction as it changes tone rather quickly, not sure of what it wants to be. The best parody movies are inherently silly like Airplane or Hot Shots, never straying too far off course. Million never hits a level where it was consistently silly or dumb. It takes itself too seriously, not willing to be a full part of the joke. I couldn’t recall a sequence that was particularly funny or notable. It was a big blur of mediocrity.
Being the director, writer and produce as well as the headlining star leaves you to do whatever you want in the movie. But someone should have said to Seth that reeling back a little would have done him some good. There is simply too much of him throughout the movie. He had the same credits in Ted but he wasn’t the main focus of the story. Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis anchored the entire story, giving it the heart it needed to succeed. Without them, it would just be a teddy bear swearing and getting high for two hours. Here it feels like “Hey I’m Seth McFarlane. Look at me; I’m starring in my own movie. Wonder at my brilliance. Wasn’t that funny? Let me tell it again.” Other parody movies like Tropic Thunder, Orgazmo, Cannibal! The Musical and Team Amercia: World Police all have people who starred, directed, produced and written by one man. But the main difference is that Ben Stiller and Trey Parker are superior directors, actors and writers. They know how to construct a good joke while not being anything it’s not and having the awareness to be stupid. It’s as if Seth doesn’t have the confidence to make it funny after a good movie in Ted.
With such a wide and diversely talented cast, you’d think they’d all have their moments to shine, exuding hilarious moments. But you’d be wrong by a long shot. Not only do the other actors get to shine on their own, Seth is the main focus of the entire movie. To say that Seth needs some acting classes would be a humongous understatement. He is simply not a leading man and should not be in top billing in any other movies unless the script supports more equality for the other actors. He tells jokes way better than emoting. Anyone else in that role would have been an improvement. As a nebbish sheep herder, he has his moments but overall you don’t really want to root for him in the end. In moments he got to be really annoying. It felt like a standup routine in various parts, I expected a mic stand and a spotlight to be shown on Seth as he states “How about this old west huh? Isn’t it awful?”
No one else but Seth gets anything notable to do and he doesn’t get an actor to go off of like Mark Wahlberg in Ted. I love Charlize Theron and she is not new to comedy when she was on Arrested Development. But she simply was underused as a love interest Anna to Albert and wife to gunslinger Clinch, who rides into town with Albert in his sights, played by Liam Neeson. It was paint by numbers role that really didn’t do anything to stand out. Liam Neeson didn’t play that good a villain and was rather tame. He can play intimidating like no one else, but it just felt like he was on autopilot. It was the same for Neil Patrick Harris as Foy who steals Albert’s ex-girlfriend Louise played by Amanda Seyfried. They both were rather boring in parts, Louise far more than Foy. Giovanni Ribisi as Edward and best friend to Albert was also underused but his girlfriend Ruth played by Sarah Silverman was perhaps the funniest character in the entire movie. Playing a prostitute in a brothel that has a boyfriend is a funny concept and the way they show it was hilarious. One scene in particular harkens back to a classic moment in There’s Something About Mary, equally gross and hilarious.
Surprisingly the cameos were the best part in the entire movie, which is something that should not be said. Stupidly, the marketing gave away a cameo to an iconic character. A moment like that benefits from secrecy. The other two were great also, one especially as it provides the biggest surprise in the film. Too bad it’s at the very end but at least it leaves you with something worthwhile. Westerns can be funny when done right and has material that can be easy to lampoon. One only has to look at Blazing Saddles which is a classic. To compare this to Blazing Saddles in any way, shape or form would be an insult to comedy. There is simply no comparison. But Seth doesn’t stretch that much and it’s often too easy to make jokes about like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially when he rants on how life in the west sucks. You want him to shut up after a while as he hammers in the title of the movie endlessly. Then when someone thankfully does, you couldn’t be gladder. It gets added with an exclamation point when he gets thrown through a window. The running time only made it worse. It drags on for far too long at nearly two hours. I was THIS close to looking at my watch, wondering when it will end. 10-15 minutes could have been easily cut from the film.
Successful films about westerns are few and far between as it’s a dying genre. A western based comedy is even rarer today, but is doable. Seth McFarlane took on the challenge but missed by a wide margin. He simply does not know how to make a comedy set in the west, going off track way too much. While he is a generally funny person, it should not mean he should get leading roles. Being front and center only hampered the film in more ways than one while not having a shred of consistency. There is such a thing as too much and it is ever present here more than anything. Just because you think it’s funny should not mean that it has to be shown and heard. I think Seth needs to hear when something isn’t funny. One and half duels at high noon out of five.