Someone really ought to tell Harold Ramis that it’s 2009. His latest directorial effort, Year One feels like leftovers from the Mel Brooks movies of the 80s. It’s History of the World Part II only the world has moved on and while we may revere the comedic efforts of that time, Year One is proof that they wouldn’t work today. Today we want more. Today we expect a story, and perhaps more importantly, should a story be attempted it must go somewhere. This one does not and though the movie may get a few giggles throughout its running time, it’s a pointless endeavor which eventually ends in a relatively half-hearted meander off screen.
The thing is, Ramis knows better. This is the guy who made Groundhog Day, Vacation, and Analyze That. He was a goddamn Ghostbuster! Comedy in the context of good story should be second nature to the man yet for whatever reason, it never quite happens in Year One, a movie that feels like it was written only after the fact.
It stars the debatable comedic talents of Jack Black and Michael Cera who, while they spend the movie dressed as cave men, are still playing Jack Black and Michael Cera. In itself, that’s actually pretty funny… for about five minutes. Black is a hunter named Zed and Cera is Oh, a gatherer living in a primitive tribe of hunter gatherers. Zed, since he’s played by Jack Black, gets them into trouble and they’re soon thrown out of the tribe and forced to walk over the mountains where they assume, they’ll surely fall off the edge of the Earth once they reach the other side. They don’t.
Instead they soon become embroiled in a Biblical re-enactment in which they meet Caine (David Cross) right before he kills his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), encounter Abraham (Hank Azaria) as he realizes that it might be kind of cool to cut off his foreskin, and wander into the Sodom half of Sodom and Gomorrah, pre-destruction but post sodomy. Oliver Platt is deliciously ridiculous as Sodom’s pedophile high-priest and Azaria is weirdly hilarious as the way too into his god and probably crazy Hebrew patriarch Abraham.
Actually most of the supporting characters work and maybe they could have had a movie here if they’d structured it like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with Black and Cera wandering around aimlessly obsessing over the mundane and incredulously watching from afar as various Biblical notables play out the Old Testament’s greatest hits in front of the camera. Better no story at all than the failed, listless attempt at one.
Instead Year One tries to be both a comedy and an adventure movie, except the adventure is so lame that it saps all the energy right out of the comedy. Cera’s meandering, mumbled asides go on far too long, Jack Black’s sword fights are far too uninteresting and who the hell really cares whether or not it rains in Sodom? Isn’t it going to be blown to smithereens by Abraham’s God anyway? What’s the point? It’s Sodom. Bring on the whores!
Year One has no point, no purpose really other than stick Jack Black and Michael Cera in loincloths so they can wander around in front of the camera. I like both Black and Cera when used in the right circumstances but neither actor is capable of carrying such a loosely structured, poorly plotted out movie. Then again, who is? You’ll find a few laughs in Year One. A scene in which Jack and Michael ride on their first ever wheeled conveyance as if it’s a roller coaster is clever and sure to get laughs as are most of Platt’s half-whispered, high-pitched monologues. It’s just not enough.