Monday, June 16, 2014

I Want My Nine Dollars Back (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

If any of you are reading this really quickly before you have to go somewhere, I will give you gist of the review right here and now: Do not go see A Million Ways to Die in the West. It is not funny, and painfully long, and I wish I had done something more productive with those nine dollars and two hours. Like bought a really expensive sandwich and stepped on it. Like a lot.

Suffice to say that I did not appreciate this film. The interesting part here is why I didn't like this movie. I mean, I could probably write a solid five thousand words of exactly what about this film I don't like, and it would probably be pretty funny, but it would, like this film, be completely wasting your time. No, the reason I don't like this movie is actually bigger than the fact that it was racist and sexist and profoundly not funny. 

I didn't like it because it was completely pointless.

I mean, it was also racist and sexist and not funny. And that's not just the easily annoyed film critic in me coming out. I was sitting in the theater with at least ten other people, presumably from very different walks of life, and I swear to you, the most laughter this movie got was a smattering of chuckles during a scene of prolonged pooping. That's it. The theater was dead silent for about 95% of the film. And might I remind you, this is supposed to be a comedy. This is actually supposed to be the next Blazing Saddles. It isn't.

The reason this movie is not the next Blazing Saddles, or really the next anything other than a massive flop, is because it's not actually saying anything. It sets itself up as satire, or a parody, but as far as I can tell, the entire point of the film is that living in the Old West must have been terrible. And also that Seth MacFarlane really wanted to make out with Charlize Theron. That's it. I can find no other motivation for the existence of this film.

Allow me to break it down for you, angry nerd style.

The film starts off with a day in the life of Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane). Albert is a coward, and we know this because he shows up to his own gunfight late, and then proceeds to try to talk the other guy down instead of fighting him. We are meant to find Albert's nebbish cowardice funny, because he's so reasonable and everyone else is terrible and isn't that funny? For the record, it wasn't. It was just kind of happening.

Anyway, because Albert was such a coward, his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried) dumps him. She thinks she can do better, and I'm not gonna lie, I agree. Albert is a sheep-farmer, he's a sadsack, and he's incredibly whiny. Good riddance, girl.

But Albert obviously doesn't see it that way, so he goes into town and gets consoled by his two best friends, in the way of movie characters. Said two best friends, who are actually the most interesting and funny part of the movie, are Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman). They're a super sweet couple, very loving, affectionate, and supportive. 

The comedy comes in the fact that Ruth is a literal whore, and Edward appears to have absolutely no problem with that. Moreover, they're both very religious, and saving themselves for marriage. But Ruth is a prostitute. And neither of them see anything weird about that. It's kind of the only really funny plotline in the movie.

Albert is sad and continues to be sad for several weeks. Finally, he's shaken out of his funk when a bar fight breaks out and Albert somehow manages to save the life of the lovely Anna (Charlize Theron), who's just come to town with her incredibly violent and looks nothing like her brother. Anna, of course, is not what she seems. She and her "brother" are actually members of a notorious gang of outlaws, and Anna's husband, Clinch (Liam Neeson), is the man in charge. But Anna's marriage is an unhappy one, and she quickly seizes on the sweet and bland Albert as a "nice guy" who she can help while she waits for her husband to come for her.

Obviously Anna and Albert fall in love. Though it is much less clear why. Whatever. The plot demanded it or something.

Still pining after Louise, who has moved on and is now dating Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a local businessman, Albert and Anna pretend to be dating. You know, to make Louise jealous. Because that always works. Eventually, Albert challenges Foy to a gunfight, and Anna then has to take the next week to turn the terminally terrified Albert into a skilled gunman. Plot.

By the time the gunfight rolls around, Albert has realized that he totally loves Anna (it has been a week), and doesn't even care anymore. Also, Anna gave Foy a laxative (hence the pooping scene), and he can't fight anyway. It's all fun and daisies, except the movie doesn't end. It keeps going. Clinch shows up, finds out some guy has been kissing his wife, and then proceeds to shoot up the town and hunt down Albert and attempt to rape Anna and do other criminal things until Albert nuts up and shoots him.

Also there is some really racist stuff in there where Albert gets kidnapped by "Indians" and then proceeds to win them over to his side because he speaks their language and obviously that's a good enough reason to trust him (ignore the fact that all that stuff about Native Americans randomly attacking white people was complete lies and therefore this makes no sense). They give him drugs, he goes on a "spirit journey" and finds the courage to confront Clinch. Blech. 

Obviously there are a lot of problems with this movie. Chief among them is the fact that it really makes no sense. Or rather, Anna makes no sense. She has absolutely zero motivation to do anything in this entire film. At first, it seems that she's stayed with her husband, whom she does not love, because she is too scared to do anything. She's an abused spouse, and it's actually pretty emotionally affecting. At least until Anna starts talking like she's in the 2000s and not being given a single line that seems to reflect the severity of her life.

And then she ends up in town, with a chaperone, except her chaperone gets arrested and she's left to fend for herself. The first thing she does? Latch onto Albert. I'm sorry? This woman, whose life is a living hell and who hates her husband has decided that the answer to her problems while her minder is locked up and literally nothing can stop her, is to stick around town and get to know the town loser. What about, I don't know, RUNNING THE CRAP AWAY?!

But no. That does not happen. That would make sense and be a logical decision, and apparently women are incapable of those. It gets even worse when the film informs us that not only has Anna been armed this whole time, but she's actually an amazing shot. Annie Oakley amazing. Which brings up another question: Why hasn't Anna shot her husband? Like, the entire premise of the movie is that it is super duper easy to die in the West and no one cares. So why didn't she wait until they were alone and then just brain him with a rock or shoot him or something and then run away?

Furthermore, when she does brain him with a rock (finally), why doesn't she kill him? It makes absolutely no sense for her not to just straight up murder the guy, because he is a terrible, abusive husband who was about to rape her. I would not feel less sympathetic towards her for killing him. And it's not like the movie has any real problems with murder. Albert kills Clinch like twenty minutes later so it's not like we're making a moral stand where killing is bad. And Anna clearly doesn't think killing is bad. So, why?

Or that time that she and Albert are at his farm and Clinch is coming, and Albert shoves her out the back door to run away, and then doesn't go with her for some reason, but sticks around, only to then run away. Why? All of the why? Either they both could have run away in the first place, or, maybe using the fact that Anna is a highly skilled marksman, just have her climb up on the roof and take everyone out Winter Soldier style.

I literally have no idea how the plot to this movie happened. It makes no sense. And it's just super dumb all the time. From what I can tell, the entire point of Anna's character is to facilitate Albert's personal transformation. She serves no other purpose in the narrative. So it doesn't matter that nothing she does makes any sense whatsoever. Her point is not to make sense, it's to make Albert look good. 

There's something deeply uncomfortable about it too. Watching Charlize Theron, an amazing, Oscar-winning actress, contort herself to try to bring some emotional weight to a character who is basically a walking blow-up doll - it's just painful. Theron deserves a lot better, and frankly, so do we, the audience. Since this movie was written, directed, and starred in by Seth MacFarlane, and Theron's character exists only to make out with his, you kind of feel like you're reading someone else's fanfiction. The bad kind.

But that's just one character. What about the rest of the movie?

Oh, it sucks. It sucks too. Yes. Ribisi and Silverman are funny, sure, but only when the scenes explicitly deal with their relationship. The rest of the time, they're just there to give Albert things to react to so that he can go off on his rants. Basically, most of the movie is an extended episode of Family Guy, with MacFarlane just narrating things and waiting for people to laugh. Which, I should add, they didn't. Also those things that he was narrating? Were either offensive or just plain dull. Bleh.

Let's see. Clinch's character also makes no sense, but whatever at this point. Actually, aside from the whole Anna thing, the most irritating moment of the film, for me, was when Anna confronted Louise about being mean to Albert. And Louise came back with, "Excuse me, but who I go out with is none of your concern." I mean, not exactly word for word, but basically.

And then Anna came back and pretty much called Louise a slut because she moved on and she's super shallow and how dare she be mean to Albert! Albert's a nice guy! He meets the absolute minimum requirements for human decency, so obviously Louise should be ashamed for dumping the guy that she had nothing in common with who seems to know nothing about her as a person. How dare she!

Louise is right, MacFarlane. I don't care how much your ex hurt your feelings, it's her choice who she dates. Get over it.

What I'm getting at is that the whole movie felt a little bit uncomfortably personal. In the sense that you could pretty much see MacFarlane's spit flying at the screen in a few places, thinking about how "this will get them!" Or maybe he wasn't doing that. But either way, this movie had no point. And satire without a point? It's just dumb.

Like, literally, this movie is just stupid. It wants to be the next Blazing Saddles, as I said above. I didn't make that up, either. MacFarlane has admitted that this is what he was trying to do. He wanted to make a Western with incredibly modern characters in it, to highlight...something. I think that's where the philosophy behind this ended. He just wanted to see what would happen?

The reason Blazing Saddles is an amazing movie is because it used the setting of the Old West to skewer present day prejudices. Sort of like how MASH was a sitcom about the Korean War that made insightful commentaries on the Vietnam War, when it was airing. It's like that. Satire works because it uses the seemingly different to comment on the familiar. By taking our prejudices and peccadillos out of their usual places, the satire shows us how stupid they are. It's great.

But A Million Ways to Die in the West isn't doing that. Nope. All it's doing is telling us the story of Albert, a "nice guy" who gets the girl, and how the Old West must have sucked. At most, that is a five minute standup routine, not a two hour movie.

So, in very very short, do not see this movie. It is bad. It is not funny, it is not clever, and it is not worth it. Also I want my money back.

These two were great, though. But just them.

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