The Good: There are moments that garner a laugh.
The Bad: Long stretches of the film that aren't funny, Some bad edits, Mediocre acting/characters.
The Basics: The Harold Ramis/Judd Apatow comedy Year One is a flop, regardless of the presentation.
With so many movies out at any given time, many slip through the cracks, even when I do advanced screenings. Last year, Year One came and went in the theaters so quickly that my wife (who was more predisposed toward a Jack Black/Michael Cera comedy than I am) and I missed it. So, when I noticed the movie at our local library last night, I picked it up for her and we had a late movie night which was intended to make her happy. Unfortunately, it had no such radical effect and I found myself bored even beyond my anticipated amounts.
Even so, my wife convinced me to bump this movie's ultimate rating up from a 1 to a 2 out of 10 simply because I did laugh a few times. That is impossible for me to deny. Year One had just enough charm to it to cause me to laugh three or four times in the course of the movie. This is pathetically little when one considers that we watched the unrated extended edition on the assumption that it would be edgier and funnier than the original. Given how little we both laughed, I am left with the realistic assumption that this historical/biblical comedy which could have been a good idea was just not that funny. Ultimately, all it has going for it is a handful of lines and the costuming.
Zed is a caveman who is arguably the worst hunter in his tribe and is best friends with Oh, a quiet young man who gathers instead of hunts. While Oh makes a rather lame attempt to get Eema to lay with him, Zed annoys others in the tribe by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree with the knowledge of good and evil. No smarter than he was before, Zed is banished from the tribe and Oh follows him when Zed unwittingly burns the village down. The pair wanders to where they discover Cain and Abel fighting and when Cain kills Abel, Zed and Oh are pressured into returning with him to his home.
Fleeing with Cain, Zed and Oh are sold into slavery and through a series of misfortunes end up in Sodom. There, Zed bluffs his way through being a guard while Oh ends up the object of desire for the High Priest. As the pair try to get away from the city before the foretold wrath of god coming down on the city, Zed tries to save Maya and get with the Princess Inanna while Oh attempts to rescue Eema, who has been enslaved.
Year One is a rare period comedy and the essential idea is not entirely unclever. The story puts the protagonists in the midst of biblical stories from early in the Bible. The witless Zed and Oh interact with the supposedly more reasonable characters like Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Cain and Sodom becomes the opportunity for director Harold Ramis to illustrate a pretty tame orgy and sense of debauchery. Because Oh and Zed and intellectually inferior, much of their dialogue is witless acknowledgment of the circumstances (Oh) and posturing (Zed).
Most of the humor is intended to be temporal nonsequitors and the hip hop instrumentation for the soundtrack accents the idea that Year One is attempting to blend the ancient with the contemporary. Added in with dialogue that calls attention to things like Cain completely denying any responsibility for killing his brother (over his corpse even!) and having Zed attempt to lay with Lilith (who is openly lesbian in the movie) are slapstick humor and visual gags like Cain, Zed and Oh apparently speeding away from Cain's father in a cart only to be passed by shepherds on foot.
The problem is, far too many of the jokes fall flat. There are generic flatulence jokes, plenty of jokes involving men being uncomfortable touching other men and ridiculous physical gags with characters smacking one another around. As the plot meanders from the wilderness to increasingly more civilized areas, Year One does not become significantly more funny. Arguably this is because the viewer is not treated to anything new in the movie.
The lack of humor comes largely from the fact that the screentime is dominated by Jack Black and Michael Cera. Black performs as viewers have seen him innumerable times, bugging out his eyes and wagging his tongue maniacally. Whatever shred of talent he once had - my wife and I just saw him on an old episode of The X-Files and were sufficiently impressed that he had talent before he started playing Jack Black - is almost entirely absent from Year One. Instead, this movie trundles along with Black handling the lion share of the movement and physical comedy.
When Black is not dominating the screen, Michael Cera is given the chance to shine in his own understated way. Unfortunately, Oh might as well be his characters from Juno or Arrested Development stuck in furs. The point is that Cera has done the whole "uncomfortable physical" thing before, so his attempt to dance with Juno Temple's Eema to show his lust is nothing audaciously funny. Instead, it is exactly what one expects from Michael Cera. There is nothing more there and viewers are much more likely to watch and be disappointed than laugh or even imagine they are seeing something remotely new. Given how much comedy relies upon being fresh and unexpected, the characters that simply play to the strengths of Michael Cera and Jack Black leave the viewer bored.
On DVD, Year One arrives with the ability to watch either the PG-13 theatrical release or the unrated edition which only seems to venture above PG-13 for the use of two instances of the f-word. The comedy is no more fresh that way. There are also movie trailers, but Year One is surprisingly sparse for a comedy with such ambitious sets and costumes.
Also, it is worth noting that Year One has a number of bad edits, at least in the unrated version. Watching the movie, there were several instances where I was far too aware of cuts and transitions between scenes being awkward. So, for example, one moment Oh is being encircled by a python and the next he is not and there is no explanation of how he got out of his dire predicament.
Ultimately, Year One could have been a clever or interesting movie, but instead, it flops because it is simply not funny for most of its runningtime.
For similarly inane comedies, please check out my reviews of:
The Other Guys
Land Of The Lost
The Tooth Fairy
For other movie reviews, please click over to my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.