A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (NC16)
116 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**
The story: Cowardly sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) loses girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to the owner of a moustache accessory shop, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Stark meets Anna (Charlize Theron) by chance and they form a relationship. Anna's husband, the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), is laying low but may appear in town at any time.
Director, co-writer and star Seth MacFarlane finds sudden, gory death humorous.
The Old West, as his character Albert keeps saying, is a treacherous place, thus making it the perfect setting for this laughfest, in which people are hilariously stabbed in the neck, crushed and gored by cattle.
As if that were not comedic enough, there are lots more trademark MacFarlane touches, such as uncontrollable farting, diarrhoea and being peed on by sheep.
And because he does not believe in stopping when he is ahead, he includes sexual knee-slappers such as pretend oral sex between two men and long bits about what it is like to be the boyfriend of a saloon prostitute.
MacFarlane comes to this movie from the hit comedy Ted (2012) in which he appears only as the voice of the foul- mouth toy that gives the movie its name.
In the belief that if a little MacFarlane is good, then more MacFarlane is better, he is now the central character here.
What little goodwill that somewhat funny film generated has been squandered by this, a misguided attempt at a western satire that picks easy targets, then whacks at them with the subtlety and precision of a sledgehammer.
A diarrhoea joke, for example, is made a western diarrhoea joke when the deed is done into a western hat.
MacFarlane makes that mistake that many writers and behind-the-scenes professionals have made: He thinks acting is easy. His lack of ease in front of the camera proves it is not and his awkwardness and lack of comic timing will bring back memories of his hosting stint at last year's Oscars ceremony.
Thankfully, he surrounds himself with talented comedic actors, among them Sarah Silverman (as the saloon whore) and Giovanni Ribisi (her angelic boyfriend), both of whom bring the much-needed light touch. The considerable talents of Theron and Neeson are wasted here.
There might be a million ways to die in the West, but MacFarlane has failed to find any means to have a laugh there.