Seth MacFarlane is the closest thing we've got to Mel Brooks, a manic comic who empties a six-shooter at the screen in every scene hoping that at least a couple bullets hit. He wrote, directed, and stars in the ruthlessly funny A Million Ways to Die in the West, yet despite it being head-to-tails his project, he sometimes feels layered on top of the film like Roger Rabbit on a live-action world. Oddly, or perhaps cannily, that works to his advantage. His character, a bachelor shepherd named Albert, doesn't want to fit into 1882 Arizona, a nasty place where people die from snakes, cholera, bulls, fast-moving tumbleweeds, exploding daguerreotypes, falling ice blocks, bad medicine, flatulence, and, of course, each other. Groans Albert, "We should all just wear coffins for clothes."
Pre-mass-media and seemingly pre-literacy, the townspeople are so ignorant that Gilbert Gottfried is able to pass himself off as Abraham Lincoln. On the night he plans to flee for San Francisco, Albert befriends a tomboy beauty named Anna (Charlize Theron) who convinces him to stick around for a week. Since she's secretly married to a murderous outlaw (Liam Neeson), the pair are free to do something truly unusual for any Hollywood genre: pal around as platonic friends. (At least for a while.)
It's hard to pin down how MacFarlane conceives of himself. "‘I'm not the hero," Albert insists. "I'm the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero's shirt." But MacFarlane can't resist trying do to both, as if, deep inside of himself, he wants to be a real boy after all -- an actor who might conceivably one day be cast in a movie without a fart joke.
We're still adjusting to Seth MacFarlane as a big-screen star. Not just because his breakneck absurdist humor often demands viewers pause and rewind, but because the man himself looks like a hand-inked cartoon, with his black, pupil-less eyes and an alabaster baby face that, lacking cheekbones that could carve in...