His R-rated 2012 comedy "Ted" was a smash and, despite withering reviews as last year's Oscar host, he still has an incredible amount of power in Hollywood. How else, after all, could he follow up "Ted" with a "Blazing Saddles"-style western comedy, less than a year after a similarly revisionist take on the Old West, "The Lone Ranger," crashed and burned at the box office? Judging by the just-released Red Band trailer for the movie (shoo the kids out of the room), MacFarlane's ribald "A Million Ways to Die in the West," with its superb cast and unique setting, could be another left field sensation.
The trailer begins with a title card identifying our time and place: "Arizona, 1882." Giovanni Ribisi and MacFarlane are watching the delivery of a huge block of ice; the rope breaks and the ice block falls, violently crushing a man's head in the manner accustomed to a filmmaker who has worked primarily in cartoons.
Over the course of the trailer's admittedly excessive 3-minute running time, you get a gist of what the movie is about: MacFarlane is a nebbish nerd who is consumed with all the ways you can get ruthlessly slaughtered in the west. This becomes something of a problem when a notorious outlaw (played by Liam Neeson) rides into town and demands that MacFarlane challenge him to a duel. Thankfully, Charlize Theron, as a gunslinger, volunteers to train MacFarlane.
While not all of the jokes land (and we would love to see a movie where MacFarlane resists the urge to make of-the-moment pop culture references, especially since the movie is set in the old west), this does look like it could be a blast. It's great to see Neeson and Theron in roles where they're not taking themselves so seriously, and the rest of the cast (including Sarah Silverman, Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris), seem to be having the time of their lives. Hopefully that fun translates to those of us watching the movie.
"A Million Ways to Die in the West" opens on May 30.