Sunday, June 1, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On A Million Ways To Die In The West

When Kevin Smith got all butthurt about the reception for Cop Out and started bitching to movie critics about how  his little action-comedy wasn't trying to hurt no-one and he didn't understand the criticism, it felt like a filmmaker lashing out because folks didn't like his movie (and he probably didn't either). After seeing Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in The West" and the general reception to the guy from critics, gossip sites, and various internet comment boards, I get where Silent Bob was coming from.

I don't get why Seth MacFarlane is so polarizing and why his movies are either met with enthusiasm or rabid vitriol, especially since his directorial efforts 'Ted" and "A Million Ways to Die in The West" are in reality pretty sweet movies with a surprising amount of heart.

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that heart is buried in a mountain of bodily fluids, poop, and enough gut-punching jokes to kill even Harry Houdini. A Million Ways to Die in the West lives up to MacFarlane's raunchy reputation, with gross out humor, racist humor, sexual humor, and more than the occasional dalliance into the graphically gory.

And maybe it's in the way Seth MacFarlane is more of less visual entertainment's Kid Rock. Taking in everything that came before, re-arranging it a bit, and delivering thoroughly entertaining but ultimately derivative and reference heavy entertainment that tickles the fancy of a certain group of media sponges who get excited when they hear a musical sting from an obscure movie or a visual pun that requires a specific frame of reference instead of claiming it a rip-off or dumb. 

In much the same way Quentin Tarantino grew up in the 70s and besieges his work with references to old television shows, and obscure B movies from the era, MacFarlane is clearly obsessed with Old Hollywood, Showtunes, 80s television, and...over-the-top scatological humor.

When MacFarlane parodies the Bob Hope / Bing Crosby "Road To..." pictures, it's not because he assumes his target audience of young people will remember them or get the reference. It's because he clearly cares about those movies and a lot of his creative development came from those flicks. you don't see Judd Apatow releasing a CD of classic, Frank Sinatra-esque tunes while simultaneously making a movie about an anthropomorphic pot-smoking Teddy Bear, do you?

Thus the 'problem' people have with Seth MacFarlane must how his particular way of mixing classic movie tropes with over-the-top gross out humor sits with critics and casual movie-goers who don't pick up on all the little details, or those that do and don't think clever. If that's the case, these elements combine like peanut butter and soccer balls. The idea that a movie with fart jokes, and sheep penises and drug trips shouldn't contain a heart, or a whimsical movie score, or an attempt to have a message, is perfectly fine - that's what Porky's is for.

It's also entirely possible this movie didn't sit very well with many people because it doesn't feel like a western at all. It feels like what would happen if you dropped a modern-day Seth MacFarlane into the West. It's not a parody or satire of westerns, it's a modern-day raunch-fest that takes places there. It's Sitcom.

As a result few of the characters put on true western accents, the jokes sometimes reference modern-day things in a winky-nudgy sort of way, and MacFarlane talks like the college educated rant-prone character that made Brian the dog so popular in Family Guy. 

You'll notice I haven't talked much about the movie because it's essentially exactly what you'd expect from the guy I've been defending for the past half dozen or so paragraphs. It's a raunchy, ribald, silly, and over-the-top with a bit of heart and some surprisingly fantastic chemistry between MacFarlane and Charlize Theron.

The plot is similar to American Pie 2 in that Albert Stark (MacFarlane), through a series of events becomes down on himself and starts to realize his multiple inadequacies, which opens the door for Anna (Theron) who in the middle of a horrible marriage to the vicious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, finds something admirable, cute, and worthwhile in the sad-sack, aw shucks, Albert. For nerds and geeks and the introverted the message is sweet - not fitting in and not being like everyone else is a good thing, even if you constantly feel like it's alienating and dishonorable.

Again, nothing new here. We've seen the "Girl befriends guy and helps him realize his true potential" trope in countless movies and shows and stage plays. The joy is in the connective tissue and the strange and silly ways the movie gets from point A to point B to point peyote. In 'A Million Ways to Die in the West" you'll be treated to drug trips, celebrity cameos, musical numbers, a wonderful performance by Neil Patrick Harris, non-sequiturs, and Giovani Ribisi reprising his iconic creepy dance from 'Ted'.  

Perhaps mixing the purity of 1960s road pictures and the pugnaciousness of what's required to make a quality gross-out comedy won't sit well with you. Perhaps you're above it, don't get it, or haven't seen enough Bob Hope flicks to really get the full picture of what MacFarlane is doing. That's fine. I think MMA is stupid because I've never punched anyone in my life nor do I find it enjoyable to watch other people punch each other for money. But I don't hate it. I understand it has value.

And that is where I bare my torch with movie snobs, internet commentators, Jezebel writers, and folks in the comments section of every movie blog there is. Something can be bad and enjoyable, just like something  can be good and boring. A Michael Bay flick like Bad Boys II or Transformers 3 has absolutely no redeeming value other than the fact it's a wildly entertaining movie whose sole purpose is to wildly entertain the audience in anyway it can - narrative continuity be damned. And if you ask me there's something admirable in that. It's why we liked Airplane and The Naked Gun. 

Thus in regard to MacFarlane, A Million Ways to Die in The West, Ted, Family Guy, American Dad, and anything else he generates from his limitless magic bag of references and satiric jokes, I'd much rather laugh along with the movie-theater full of sinners I saw this movie with, than cry with the saints claiming it's a piece of trash. 

Because you know what they say about one man's trash, right? 

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