It’s not that Seth MacFarlane’s latest film isn’t funny. In this western comedy he continues the rapid-fire approach to joke-telling that’s been a hallmark of his career since he started Family Guy, so that for every joke that misses there’s at least one that hits. And he mixes up the kinds of jokes he’s telling too, so while there’s a fair amount of crude stuff here – one running joke involves a hard-working prostitute (Sarah Silverman) who’ll happily discuss her work dramas with her sappy fiancée (Giovanni Ribisi) but won’t sleep with him because they’re married – there’s a bunch of smart jokes about the nature of the West and the social attitudes of the time (people sure were poor, ignorant and racist) in there, too.
But while there’s plenty here that works there’s also just a little too much that doesn’t, starting with MacFarlane casting himself as the lead. His character – basically a modern-day schmuck stuck out in the Wild West, making modern-day observations about the hicks, yokels and murderous gunslingers (that’d be Liam Neeson in that role) – suits his limited acting abilities fine, and he’s canny enough to write a romance where his partner (Charlize Theron) does all the heavy lifting when it comes to actually falling in love, but he’s not a leading man and having him as the central character smells just a little too much like self-indulgence. He doesn’t drag the film down, but he doesn’t raise it up either, and with a film as hit-and-miss as this one a weak leading man is a fatal flaw. Plus, it’s a comedy about Westerns at a time when we hardly even have regular Westerns.
Unless you really have something exciting and new to say about the genre – and this doesn’t – step away and leave it to Blazing Saddles. Though Neil Patrick Harris as an evil moustached supply mogul is pretty funny.
Written by Anthony Morris