The summer movie season continues this week with the release of A Million Ways to Die in the West, the second film written and directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane after 2012’ s Ted. MacFarlane, who makes his (non-voice) acting debut here as the movie’s lead, co-scripted A Million Ways to Die with his Ted co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, but the creative team’s second big-screen comedy isn’t faring as well as their first.
Review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are currently rating a A Million Ways to Die in the West at 33% and 45/100, respectively, a significant drop from the scores Ted received two years ago: 68% and 62/100. The most common complaints from critics about the movie are that 1) at 116 minutes, it’s longer than it needs to be, and 2) it’s jam-packed with a ton of jokes but many of them don’t land. As far as the success rate of the movie’s many, many jokes goes, David Edelstein of Vulture says “maybe one in four [land],” while Steven Rea from Philadelphia Inquirer feels”every single one arrives with a lethal thud” and Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post writes, “There are a million jokes in it, but only 500,000 of them are funny.”
Perhaps the biggest risk for MacFarlane going into A Million Ways to Die was using himself as a leading man. Though MacFarlane is an accomplished voice actor, the extent of his on-camera work prior to this was: playing a supporting role in the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle The Tooth Fairy, cameoing as himself in the critically-panned Movie 43, and his not-so-well-received Oscar-hosting stint last year. Nevertheless, MacFarlane’s performance has been far from the biggest problems critics have had with the movie, although most critics have been either lukewarm on his performance or worse. Scott Foundas of Variety sums up his thoughts:
In his first live-action lead, he lumbers through the film spouting dialogue that sounds like an extended standup riff about the horrors of the Old West, all delivered with a modern, ironic-hipster smirk. The effect is not unlike that of seeing [Mel] Brooks or Woody Allen in their own historical comedies, where they continued to “do” their patented comic personas even when the setting was the Napoleonic Wars or the Spanish Inquisition. Except that MacFarlane, who rose to prominence as an ingenious voice actor, proves surprisingly bland in the flesh, and his unmodulated delivery eventually runs as dry as the desert sands.
MacFarlane and company made a super smart move by countering having an inexperienced lead by assembling an accomplished supporting cast full of Oscar caliber performers (Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron) and comedic actors (Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris) alike. Harris and Theron have been receiving widespread acclaim for their performances, but critics are saying that the supporting cast was underserved by the material. “Stocking the supporting cast with top-drawer talent, [MacFarlane] gives most of his costars little to do besides attract our attention on movie posters,” writes THR’s John DeFore. He adds, “Theron carries almost all the weight here, given her partner’s unexpected blandness, which makes it vaguely insulting when the third act turns her into a helpless damsel in need of his rescue.”
Though A Million Ways to Die in the West has been taking a little bit of a beating from critics, Seth MacFarlane beat them all to the punch last week on The Tonight Show, reading a bunch of fake bad review titles that prove he’s at least able to laugh at himself and make some funny jokes about the matter.