A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (Seth MacFarlane). 116 minutes. Opens Friday (May 30). See listings. Rating: NN
Set in a crappy Arizona frontier town in 1882, where a progressive-minded sheep rancher (Seth MacFarlane) befriends a similarly inclined woman (Charlize Theron) who's unfortunately married to a ruthless outlaw (Liam Neeson), A Million Ways To Die In The West certainly feels as if it ought to be a charming retro Western - thanks largely to suitably sweeping cinematography by Michael Barrett and a rousing score by Joel McNeely.
Much as Blazing Saddles did four decades earlier, the movie feels like it grew organically out of the genre... at least at first.
But MacFarlane - who also directs, produces and co-writes - never puts the effort into making it anything more than a half-assed goof. In fairness, he doesn't really have to. He knows his legions of bro fans will show up for anything with his name on it, and the rest of us can just go sit on a cactus.
In further fairness, the picture has some potentially terrific things rattling around inside of it - subtle tweaks at the primitive morality of the Hollywood Western, a charming Theron performance, fun work from Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman and a commentary on the unenlightened, self-justifying cruelty underneath the concept of Manifest Destiny. MacFarlane himself has decent comic timing and a less punchable screen presence than he did when he played himself at the Oscars.
But the whole thing is so smug and self-satisfied and bloated - running two full hours when it has maybe half an hour of story - that it's wearying, especially once MacFarlane gets really perverse, casting Ewan McGregor and Ryan Reynolds for two-shot cameos and giving them absolutely nothing funny to do.