This is it. We finally got to see it. After years of begging and pleading, we AT LAST got a film where Neil Patrick Harris takes not one, but two violent diuretic dumps into a cowboy hat.
Generally speaking, I enjoy Seth MacFarlane’s comedy. He’s a spectacular voice actor, sharp observer of flaws in Hollywood culture (I personally loved the job he did as Oscar host), and as proven in Ted, a fairly competent director. With all that said, he can definitely have off days, especially when it seems like he’s the only one in command of the humor. There are episodes of Family Guy and American Dad that are just painful, and while this movie is certainly not awful, it ultimately feels like a lesser episode of one of those shows expanded to two hours.
Macfarlane plays Albert, a lamb farmer who is certainly a bit sheepish in his own right (hey, I’m just trying to get on this movie’s level, don’t get mad at me). After chickening out of a gun battle in town, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for the mustache twirling likes of Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Lucky for Albert, he runs into new in town, smoking hot badass Anna (Charlize Theron) who encourages him to challenge Foy to a duel that will take place in a week. As she teaches him to shoot, the two start to bond, which definitely proves to be too good to be true considering that Anna is married to the gun slinging, take no prisoners outlaw Clinch (Liam Neeson).
There is definitely a bit of an identity crisis going on here. MacFarlane really struggles to balance his contemporary blend of sardonic humor, with his actual reverence for the western genre. Unlike someone like Edgar Wright, who will completely immerse the story in the genre he’s lampooning, filling it with little sight gags that only fully get revealed upon multiple viewings, MacFarlane just dresses the film in a beautiful western setting, draped with a perfectly orchestrated score by Joel McNeely, and then just ultimately makes a Seth MacFarlane movie. This lack of commitment ensures that so many of the jokes just don’t hit their marks. There are so many scenes where I was chuckling at the cleverness of one of the setups, only to cringe at the execution. A lot of the writing here is extremely sloppy, letting unfunny jokes go on for far too long, and even in some cases resorting to awkwardly explaining the meaning of a joke.
The actors really struggle here for the most part. While MacFarlane has a certain likable charm to him, he seems very unnatural in front of the camera. Without an extreme character like Ted or Stewie to hide behind, he suffers from a similar problem as Kevin Hart. He’s so conditioned to a stand-up comedy style of timing, that it translates into his line deliveries. Even in his more serious moments, it always seems like he is trying to deliver a joke. Also, in the process of giving himself more screen time, he wastes his highly talented supporting cast. Seyfried, and Harris are tremendously wasted as two completely one note characters, and Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman have a subplot that could have been completely cut out of the film. The only two who really come off solidly are Theron and Neeson. Theron has an easy chemistry with MacFarlane, and through restraining herself in a movie full of cartoon characters, actually has some very strong comedic moments. Neeson is basically just chewing scenery up and spitting it out, but he’s always fun to watch and full of conviction.
This is certainly not a movie devoid of merit. Throughout, there are so many little glimmers of cleverness just waiting to get out, and I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy watching it. I consistently chuckled, and tittered throughout, but it never, ever went beyond that. The most enjoyable moments are when MacFarlane completely commits to lampooning the tropes of the western, including some fantastically executed physical comedy, and one pretty damn catchy song and dance number about the irresistibility of the mustache.
Overall, this is definitely a disappointment, but most certainly not a bitter one. It has it’s moments, but ultimately really struggles by the hands of a weak script, wasted cast, and misguided tone. Perhaps going back to the Ted well next year is a good idea for Seth after all.