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Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

Lots of setup, some payoff.


A Million Ways to Die in the West is a new comedy/western from Seth MacFarlane (Ted). The plot loosely follows MacFarlane's character, Albert, a nice but cowardly sheep farmer who is tired of the dangers of living in the West in 1882. After his girlfriend Louise, (Amanda Seyfreid) leaves him for a more macho suitor, Foy, (a mustachioed Neil Patrick Harris), Albert must learn how to shoot from newcomer, Anna, (Charlize Theron) so that he can challenge Foy to a duel and win back Louise.

After the success of  MacFarlane's 2012 directorial debut, Ted, he was given a lot more freedom in making his second film. He chose a Western, a genre which is notoriously appreciated by filmmakers, but not as often by audiences. While his nostalgia for classic Western's comes across, and parts of the movie succeed as a pleasant romantic Western mixed with modern sensibilities, much of MacFarlane's signature comedy misses the mark.

The film takes the dirty jokes as far as you would expect, with plenty of gross out gags making full use of the R-rating. Most of the fart jokes fall flat, but a few have enough of a twist to entertain. Sarah Silverman has a lot of fun delivering some pretty obscene dialogue as a prostitute that is waiting until marriage to have sex with her boyfriend because she's Christian. MacFarlane knows how to push the gross-out gags as far as possible without crossing the line.

The jokes that work most consistently are the violent gags, throwing you off guard with sudden, excessive gore. In one scene, a racially charged gag came out of nowhere, but it was one of the most effective, sharp jokes in the film. Much of the humor is cheap, however, every once in a while a smart or bold joke will catch you off guard. The other consistently amusing parts are the series of cameos thrown in. Some of these have been spoiled in recent trailers, but the familiar faces brought in add a level of randomness and self-awareness that really energizes the movie.

The visuals are impressive, and MacFarlane was clearly working on a big budget. It seems excessive, however, when you think about how much trivial things cost such as CGI sheep in a hallucination scene. Still, some of the cinematography of the 1882 Arizona desert is beautiful.

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The weakest aspect of the film is its pacing and story structure. While Ted had similar script issues, they are magnified here, as one narrative arc wraps itself up neatly before an entirely new conflict is introduced in the last third of the movie. Liam Neeson's outlaw character (arguably the main antagonist) does not become relevant to the plot until after Albert has already confronted a different rival. This lack of focus makes for uneven pacing. The movie has lots of setups, but a significant lack of satisfying payoffs. Some plot threads go nowhere, even if they have huge comedic potential.

Overall, A Million Ways to Die in the West offers plenty of low-brow laughs, and a few smart one too. It doesn't always follow through and deliver on the potential of its own comedic setups. It is a random, plotless, but entertaining romantic Western comedy

A Million Ways to Die in the West comes out May 30, 2014.

Rating: 6/10 Stars

Review: Non-Stop

Like Taken meets Snakes on a Plane

Liam Neeson has regain control of the plane using his special set of skills. Watch the Trailer above.

Non-Stop is a fast-paced thriller about an alcoholic air marshal (Liam Neeson) aboard a plane who starts getting texts threatening to kill a passenger every two minutes unless $150 million is transferred to his account.

I went in with low expectations based on the previous work of Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown), since he tends to introduce exciting premises that lack payoff and fall flat. Fortunately, with Non-Stop he follows through and pays off on just about everything introduced in the initial premise.

Liam Neeson, as usual, is awesome as the badass who must operate outside of the law. Along for the ride are a few familiar faces: Julianne Moore (Children of Men), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), and current Oscar-nominee Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) who is severely underused. The supporting performances really elevate the film, populating the plane with a few stereotypical, but mostly likable characters.

If this film seems formulaic, that's because it is--it is riddled with action-movie cliches, expected plot-twists, and a few unexpected plot-twists. At times the movie can be patronizing. From the opening scene on, it ceaselessly and obviously reminds you of the main character's flaws: his alcoholism and relationship with his daughter. The movie also consistently pats itself on the back for being "not-racist," seemingly impressed with itself every time it subverts our (presumed) expectations by showing a Black or Middle Eastern character who does not turn out to be an antagonist.

Visually, Non-Stop makes the most out of its single plane setting. There are some fresh and exciting action scenes, and the climax will have you on the edge of your seat. There are some cool sequences I've never seen take place in a movie set on a plane, which often disregard common sense and physics.

Ultimately, Non-Stop is so-bad-it's-good. It elicits a lot of unintentional laughter, and just barely misses the mark of being a logical thriller, but it's a whole lot of fun.

Non-Stop comes out on Feb 28, 2014

Rating: 3/5 Stars