Seth MacFarlane is a genius. Say what you will about my humor, but haters beware: I laughed hysterically at this movie and you just might too. Despite the low-brow potty humor and sex jokes, A Million Ways to Die in the West boasts golden nuggets of religious satire buried for the more observant audience members to keep them chuckling long after the credits roll.
The movie begins like a typical classic western with beautiful camera shots of the great frontier and a very rousing, patriotic musical score roaring in the background.
Sparing no time at all, we’re immediately witnessing a good ol’ fashioned gunfight playing out in the town of Old Stump in 1882. Our hero, Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), chickens out of a duel, consequently losing his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the rich, mustache-grooming fiend, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Next, we’re introduced to Albert’s best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), a naïve, God-fearing simpleton, and his girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman), a dopey yet chipper prostitute at the local saloon. Hilarious hypocrisy ensues: despite Ruth’s profession, she and Edward have never had sex because they are unwed Christians and that would be wrong (oh no! Not premarital relations!)
Meanwhile, the infamous Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) conspires nearby to find and steal gold with his gang of bandits. While scoping out the towns surrounding Old Stump, Clinch sends one of his lackeys along with his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to lay low in Old Stump for the time being.
Feeling down about being dumped and hating the Wild West for all its sickness, wild animals, and death, our hero Albert sits at the local saloon with Edward and Ruth drowning his sorrows and planning his newly decided move to San Francisco. While at the saloon, a fight breaks out and Albert ends up saving Anna from several falling drunk guys, and a friendship is born.
Anna decides to help Albert win Louise back by making her jealous. This plan is supposed to play out at the weekend fair, where people apparently always die, but instead ends with Albert challenging Foy to a duel. You’ll have to see A Million Ways to Die in the West to find out whether Albert wins the duel, what happens when Clinch finds out Anna helped him, and whether or not Ruth and Edward ever have sex.
Overall, this is a fun and laid-back movie sprinkled with fantastic cameos left and right. You’ll find yourself saying, “No way! Was that—?!” And yes, it was. The cast consists of some heavy-hitting non-religious stars. MacFarlane, who won the Harvard Humanist Award in 2011 and was an executive producer of the Cosmos reboot, wrote, directed, and produced A Million Ways to Die in the West and surely had a hand in rounding up other atheist actors like Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, Ryan Reynolds, and Ewan McGregor to appear in his wild western.
The film is chock full of jokes and barbs, and religion is certainly not spared. We’ve got a chaste Christian prostitute, pastors who kill people, and Parkinson’s disease described as “just another way God mysteriously shows he loves us.”
MacFarlane has effectively turned a spoof into a space for discourse, addressing issues that were present in the Wild West of 1882, and others that are alive and loathsome today. Go in to this movie with the right mindset (and look past the crude jokes and obnoxious fart sounds) and you won’t be disappointed.