If there were a high-noon shootout in the Hollywood comedic corral between Mel Brooks’ 40-year-old Western spoof, “Blazing Saddles,” and the new kid in town, Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” it’s not even a contest. Brooks’ classic would chase the upstart out of town with a backside full of lead.
Speaking of backsides, the two films do have one thing in common: flatulence jokes. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
That’s not to say there aren’t some very humorous segments in “A Million Ways to Die” (in a comedy that stretches to nearly two hours, there ought to be). There are also some inspired cameos. But, overall, it lacks the raw, anarchic spirit that made “Blazing Saddles” so ferociously funny. It substitutes that with a sense of love-story sweetness as well as MacFarlane’s “Family Guy”-style one-liners which, as anyone who saw his stint as host of the 2013 Oscars or his last film, the foul-mouthed teddy bear flick “Ted,” can attest, can be a hit-or-miss.
It’s the 19th century and MacFarlane is Albert, a luckless sheep farmer living with his parents in the dusty town of Old Stump in the Arizona Territory. His only friend is the equally hapless Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), a virgin dating the town prostitute, Ruth (Sarah Silverman), who won’t be intimate with Edward until he puts a ring on it.
Meanwhile, Albert’s girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has left him for a local Lothario, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the man with the most upper-lip facial hair for miles who also runs the town’s moustachery. Their lives are disrupted when, during a bar brawl, Albert happens to save the life of a beautiful but mysterious woman, Anna (Charlize Theron), who just moved to Old Stump.