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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

1 Star — Empty

Watching A Million Ways to Die in the West is in many ways like listening to a 14-year-old boy giggling with friends about saying "bad words" and exhibiting bravado about his knowledge, or lack of it, about sexuality. This is adolescent humor extended into adulthood, but without much humor.

Yes, there are some very funny moments, but overall this film takes raunchiness to a new level and leaves you less than satisfied.

Set in the Old West, you are taken back into the comfortable style of an old John Wayne movie but with all the pratfalls of a Laurel and Hardy comedy. With a similar feel and style of  Blazing Saddles, old cowboys sit around and pass gas, or a black cowboy (Jamie Foxx in a cameo appearance) steps up to administer frontier justice akin to Django Unchained. One joke about a Christian couple not wanting to have sex before marriage while she continues to work as a whore in a brothel is told over and over again. The rest revolves between cheap sex jokes, murder, cheap sex jokes, robbery, cheap sex jokes and bad relationships.

Written, directed and starring Seth MacFarlane as the lead character, Albert, the story is about a man with low self-confidence who longs to have his old girlfriend back without understanding how badly she treats him.

The only saving grace in this pity party is a first-rate cast including Liam Neeson as an outlaw named Clinch, his wife Anna (Charlize Theron), Foy, a self-absorbed mustache supply salesman (Neil Patrick Harris), Louise the shallow girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) and a cowboy at the fair played by Ewan McGregor.

In his dither about losing Louise as his girlfriend, Albert is guided in accepting his reality and learning what it means to be loved by the ever-beautiful Anna, the wife of the outlaw Clinch. Do not try to make sense out of how Anna, who was married off to the outlaw Clinch when she was 9 years old, comes to have so much wisdom and charisma.

There are some very funny gags in the movie akin to Blazing Saddles, but overall the humor was sparse. Some of the humor makes you cringe, such as jokes about how the hoop skirts of the period would be "attractive to black men since they like fat rear ends!"

The best comedy moments come from cameo appearances, especially Christopher Lloyd reprising a moment as Doc Brown, and from a well-executed dance scene featuring Harris done to an old 1864 Stephen Foster tune "If You've Only Got a Mustache."

Part of the genius of old Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin films is the self-depreciating humor that they exhibit makes you laugh without having to make the joke at the expense of someone else. A Million Ways to Die in the West is more in line with Rodney Dangerfield or Don Rickles, putting everyone else in their place to make you look good. After awhile, you get tired of cringing at the crude and demeaning behavior just to get to the next laugh.

Discussion

» Degrading others most often produces nervous laughter that some describe as humor. Do you find such behavior humorous? Why or why not?

» The truth that in the Old West death was both commonplace and expected is an underlying theme of this film. How do you think people coped with such a common tragedy? How would you have coped with it?

» Why do you think that people find this style of humor to be funny? What impact do you think a film like this has on those who watch it?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.




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