Friday, June 19, 2009

Movie Review: Year One

© 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Black and Cera lookin' good in fur trimmings.
"I think a couch would look awesome over there."

Year One, directed and co-written by Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest), is a succession of drawn-out Biblical skits cobbled together to relay the tale of two Neolithic forest folk on a road trip to expand their world view and, of course, rescue some chicks. Starring Jack Black and Michael Cera and backed up by the incomparable David Cross, Year One has the potential for some comedy gold. With Judd Apatow and Ramis producing, what could go wrong? Answer: a lot. Black and Cera play well off each other, but they simply can’t carry this weakly structured film as it relies too heavily on their personas and the mildly amusing clash between contemporary dialogue and period garb and scenarios. After 15 minutes, one is left wondering what more this unexciting and trite comedy has to offer and what the hell went wrong in the making.

Year One has issues from the first scene’s unsuccessful and lackluster boar hunt in an overly misted forest where we meet our heroes. Zed (Black), a cocky yet incompetent hunter and Oh (Cera), a sensitive thoughtful gatherer, are clearly the village imbeciles, though Oh is the smarter of the two. One day the duo stumble upon the tree of knowledge on an angry walk after the other forest dwellers have picked on them. Zed eats the fruit, which for some reason gives him the knowledge of right and wrong (but not really). The odd couple are then exiled after accidentally setting fire to some huts and forced to leave their unrequited lady loves, played perfectly well given the sparse material by June Diane Raphael and Juno Temple

And so the holy land road trip begins.

Before ending up in Sodom, they run into two jerky brothers, Cain (Cross) and Able (Paul Rudd cameo) and then hang out a bit with Abraham (Ramis) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Abraham introduces Zed and Oh to the tribe, “The Hebrews. We are a righteous people, but not very good at sports.” Sadly, that’s about the most sophisticated joke in the whole movie. We also meet Abraham’s lesser know children, the hot lesbian daughter and the mentally challenged sheep knowing fart machine son.

© 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cera, Cross & Black.

Zed and Oh flee forced circumcision and end up in the infamous Sodom where Cain has resettled after a minor family dispute. There Zed is convinced by the conniving and gorgeous princess (Olivia Wilde) that he is the “Chosen One” after nibbling on that freaky fruit back home. As Zed struggles to make sense of his greatness, Oh gives a very uncomfortable and unfunny oil massage to the High Priest (Oliver Platt) at the nightly orgy.

There is no shortage of sodomy and circumcision jokes, and at one point one of our heroes pees on himself. Oh, and did I mention the poop eating earlier in the film? No? Not exactly the clever Biblical and historical bits one would expect from Ramis who co-wrote Year One with two writers from The Office. What's worse is that I'm pretty sure the film wants to make a grand message about religion and self determination. When the climax of your film depends on Jack Black having an intellectual epiphany, you've got a problem.

The cast is there, the premise is ripe, but Year One simply doesn’t have the smart dialogue needed to pull off such juvenile slapstick. I got the feeling that scenes were cut and bits were dropped, but they were forced to leave some material in for time (?). In two cases one of our heroes suffers severe animal attack, but the scene is cut before any resolution and both instances are barely mentioned again. These attempts at cartoon violence come across as sloppy filmmaking. Painful as it is to admit, but not as painful as it was to watch, Year One is a letdown despite talent both in front and behind the camera.

Year One opens tonight across the land 1hr 40min 

Dir.: Harold Ramis  
Writ.: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupinsky, Lee Eisenberg  
Rated: PG-13 for poop eating, sex jokes, heresy, unfunny urination and wasting both David Cross and Bill Hader in a movie. This movie would have made more sense if it were PG or R, this in between shit is awful.