"MacFarlane's trademarks are all present"

Seth MacFarlane has always billed himself as a rebel, one who eschews societal norms in search of edgy comedy that will offend just as many people as it entertains. From Family Guy, to Ted, to his unforgettably controversial Oscars performance, MacFarlane has always got a kick out of squaring up to the world and slapping it in the face. It is a great disappointment then, that his latest romp through the Wild West, bringing to mind works of contemporaries Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles) and South Park creator Trey Parker (Cannibal! The Musical) is a tame, lazy affair where the saddles aren't blazing and there's barely a musical number in sight.

Making his first foray into live action acting, MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a lowly sheep farmer who still lives with his parents as he struggles to make a meagre living in an 1882 frontier town by the name of Old Stump. Stark, who has little going for him, is promptly dumped by his long-term girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) and in an effort to win back her heart, challenges her new man (played by a moustachioed Neil Patrick Harris) to a gun battle. He enlists the help of the town's newest arrival Anna (Charlize Theron) and the pair quickly fall for each other but unbeknownst to him, Anna is married to Clinch (Liam Neeson), a vile gunslinger who won't take kindly to her new man.

If it all sounds a bit stuffy and obvious, that's because it is. The plot feels like it was lazily scribbled on the back of a napkin twenty minutes before pitching it to the executives. In a comedy like this the narrative mustn't simply exist as a vehicle for the film's jokes but in A Million Ways to Die in the West it does just that. The film is sluggishly paced and, surprisingly for MacFarlane, very small in scope. There are no epic journeys here, no large-scale musical numbers, and no elaborate set-pieces, the film simply trundles along aimlessly as if it's not quite sure what to do next.

All this wouldn't be quite such a problem if the comedy were a little stronger. MacFarlane's trademarks are all present, and there are one or two genuine laughs peppered throughout, but the bulk of the jokes feel slightly more puerile, slightly less mature (even for Seth) than usual. The sharp wit that made Family Guy and Ted such successes is visible only as a faint glimmer, struggling to be heard over a barrage of childish fart jokes. This could've been a moderately funny kids movie were it not for all the sex and swearing.

The supporting cast deliver mostly forgettable performances, Neeson in particular seems to have phoned his in during a couple of days shooting. Neil Patrick Harris delivers a few laughs but doesn't feature strongly enough. The film seems to exist mainly as MacFarlane's vanity project and while he does seem to have a good chemistry with Charlize Theron, her character's motivations are barely touched upon.

Ted cost $50 million and made 10 times that (sequel out next year). Following its extraordinary success, MacFarlane was free to explore new ground and do something that hasn't been done before. Instead he's made a film that struggles to justify its own existence, one that adds nothing new to his body of work and ultimately feels a little pointless.