Director : Harold Ramis
Screenplay : Harold Ramis & Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (story by Harold Ramis)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Jack Black (Zed), Michael Cera (Oh), Oliver Platt (High Priest), David Cross (Cain), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Isaac), Vinnie Jones (Sargon), Hank Azaria (Abraham), Juno Temple (Eema), Olivia Wilde (Princess Inanna), June Diane Raphael (Maya), Xander Berkeley (King), Gia Carides (Queen), Horatio Sanz (Enmebaragesi), David Pasquesi (Prime Minister), Matthew Willig (Marlak)
In theory, Jack Black and Michael Cera, the stars of Harold Ramis’s prehistoric comedy Year One, should make the perfect odd couple. Everything about them--both physically and behaviorally--is contradictory. Black is stout and compact, which heightens his energy, whereas Cera is long and lean, which plays into his shy geniality. Black’s comedy emanates directly from his anarchic spirit and love of all things crass, which is accentuated by his devilish leer and cocked eyebrows, while Cera’s comedy comes from a deep well of insecurity and general confusion, which is captured so well in the blank stare you often see on posters bearing his visage (the film’s one-sheet captures this School of Rock vs. Superbad dynamic quite perfectly in its close-ups of the two actors). It’s a shame, then, that their pairing in Year One doesn’t yield more. There are certainly some funny moments, the best of which derive from Black and Cera’s awkward interactions as mutual outcasts in their primitive forest society, but much of the movie feels like it should be funnier than it is.
The screenplay by director Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg (the latter two of whom are veterans of The Office) seems like it emerged from the same brainstorming session that produced Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C. (2008), with the two groups of writers parting ways over the question of whether the material is better served as a goofy comedy or quasi-serious historical epic. Both movies feature primitive characters discovering more advanced civilizations that consequently enslave their loved ones and force them to fight for their lives, but Year One treats everything as a cosmic joke. The emphasis on a specific date in the title of both films provides its own kind of amusement since neither film has any aspirations to anything resembling actual historical veracity, but rather plunders the kitschiest of pop-culture history lessons to weave its storyline. For Year One’s purposes, this primarily involves using the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis as a backdrop for the humor of disconnect, with Black and Cera playing their characters Zed and Oh as if they have been unknowingly time-warped from the present tense.
After being kicked out of their hunter/gatherer tribe for being either an incompetent hunter (in Black’s case) or a competent gatherer who shouldn’t be so proud to be competent at “women’s work” (in Cera’s case), Zed and Oh set out to form their own tribe, along the way crossing paths with many familiar Biblical characters--familiar in name, at least, since I don’t remember any Sunday School lessons involving Abraham’s (Hank Azaria) obsession with circumcision. For that matter, I don’t remember anything about Cain (David Cross) joining the royal guard in Sodom, either, or Abraham’s son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) being an obnoxious snot. But, such is the tenor of Year One, which throws its comedy around with semi-reckless abandon, but never quite achieves more than a few good chuckles. Black and Cera give it their all, as does Oliver Platt in a swishy performance as an oil-loving hirsute high priest, but it feels like a lot of energy extended for too little pay-off.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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