Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron in A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal Pictures)



According to Seth MacFarlane’s new comedy, there are A Million Ways to Die in the West. Most are pointless (being shot over a jostle in a bar), many are gruesome (having your head bashed in by a giant block of ice), and some are the kinds of things that could only be thought up by an unusually immature first-grader (farting yourself to death).

Pointless, gruesome and immature: That pretty well sums up this latest effort from the maker of Ted and TV’s Family Guy.

The flick starts out promisingly, superimposing the opening credits over shots of Utah’s majestic Monument Valley while Joel McNeely’s equally majestic score plays in the background. Director/co-writer MacFarlane seems intent on capturing the look and feel of classic Westerns, many of which were shot in this same location.

Then, unfortunately, actor MacFarlane enters the scene as an Arizona sheep rancher named Albert, and cinematic nostalgia rides off into the sunset.

We meet Albert one day in 1882, when he talks his way out of a duel and causes girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) to lose what little respect she has for him. Though Albert continues to carry a torch for her, Louise quickly replaces him with a more successful beau named Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), owner of the local mustache-supply shop.

From this point on, the movie is less of a Western than it is the kind of relationship comedy Woody Allen might have made—except that Allen would have filled it with witty dialogue and conflicted characters rather than F-bombs, fart jokes and grotesque violence.

Adding a note of menace to the proceedings, a vicious hombre named Clinch (Liam Neeson) appears on the outskirts of town with his gang of outlaws. But he then stays on the outskirts for most of the movie, because his real purpose is to introduce us to Anna (Charlize Theron), his disgruntled wife, and send her and a cohort to check out the town.

Anna quickly befriends Albert and begins teaching him to stand up for himself, whether he’s dealing with dangerous men or self-centered women like Louise. Meanwhile, Albert’s friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) continues to court fiancée Ruth (Sarah Silverman), a prostitute who refuses to go to bed with him because premarital sex is against her religion.

The guest stars do their best to earn their paychecks, but they’re stymied by a script that makes bland Albert the center of attention. As if to compensate for the fact that little of interest is going on, director/co-writer MacFarlane regularly punctuates the tale with graphic violence and equally graphic toilet humor. Occasionally, he comes up with an idea that’s both clever and outrageous, but for the most part the flick trades in gross-out shocks rather than true wit.

If Mel Brooks’s 1974 classic Blazing Saddles is the gold standard of comedy Westerns, A Million Ways to Die in the West is nothing more than fool’s


Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)


Disney fairy may remind you of a certain Broadway witch


It’s impossible to watch Maleficent without thinking of Wicked.

Like the Broadway blockbuster, the new Disney film offers an alternative interpretation of a childhood favorite. For Wicked, it was The Wizard of Oz; for Maleficent, it’s the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Another crucial similarity is that the play and the film center on “evil” female characters who are revealed to be innately good. Think of both works as feminist deconstructions of popular culture.

The film revolves around Maleficent, an angry fairy who lays a curse on the infant princess Aurora. As in the original, the girl is doomed to prick her finger on her 16th birthday and fall into a deep sleep, from which she can be awakened only by the kiss of a true love.

First, though, the flick explains how Maleficent got so mad in the first place. A charming opening depicts her as a happy young fairy (Isobelle Molloy) who lives in a peaceful land filled with equally happy creatures. Her fate is sealed when she befriends Stefan (Michael Higgins), a human boy who wanders over from the adjoining kingdom.

For years, the two have an idyllic relationship, but the adult Stefan (Sharlto Coplay) eventually betrays the adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) in order to elevate himself to his kingdom’s throne. When Stefan’s new queen subsequently gives birth to a daughter, who could blame Maleficent for finally living up to her name?

Visual-effects veteran and first-time director Robert Stromberg fills Maleficent with beautiful 3-D vistas, but its made-up creatures are an odd assortment ranging from grotesque to goofily cute. The action scenes, likewise, are uneven: The early battles are impressive, but the climactic encounter is blurred and unconvincing.

Dramatically speaking, Maleficent is neither moving nor exciting. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Mulan, Beauty and the Beast) is so careful to

depict the title character as essentially good that it’s no surprise when Maleficent begins to warm up to the girl she cursed (played as a teenager by a lovable Elle Fanning). Thus, an opportunity to touch our emotions is lost.

It doesn’t help that Jolie’s ability to express herself is hampered by the heavy makeup job that forms Maleficent’s sharp-cheekboned face. Sam Riley reveals more personality as Diaval, her shape-shifting assistant, as do Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple as the humorously flighty fairies who become young Aurora’s nursemaids.

Despite its imperfections, this revised fairy tale may strike its younger viewers as uplifting and reasonably diverting—especially if they’ve never seen Wicked.

Rating: 2½ stars (out of 5)

Angelina Jolie in the title role of Maleficent (Walt Disney Pictures)