I get it.
I understand why Harold Ramis wanted to make "Year One," a comedy of not so biblical proportions starring Jack Black and Michael Cera.
On paper, I get the feeling that "Year One" was funny.
It WAS funny when Monty Python tackled it in "Life of Brian."
It WAS funny when Mel Brooks served it up in "History of the World Part I."
"Year One" could have been funny. Edgy. Biting. Dark.
"Year One" is dreadful.
I mean really dreadful.
I'm talking a cinematic sin the size of Sodom & Gomorrah dreadful.
Oh, but "Year One" is still better than "Dance Flick."
In "Year One," Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) are two outcasts in a village of hunters and gatherers. If, by chance, you forget that they are supposed to be hunters and gatherers they will remind you countless times in the film's opening scenes.
The line isn't funny the first time. It's not funny the last time. It's never funny.
When Zed eats the "forbidden fruit," the potential calamity he's bringing upon the village leads to his being tossed out of the village and, of course, Oh chooses to join him. Before long, the two begin what amounts to a Cliff's Notes journey through the Old Testament beginning with a not even remotely funny encounter with Cain (David Cross) and Abel (an uncredited Paul Rudd) followed by Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his son, Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) then onto the final, painstakingly long scenes in Sodom & Gomorrah with a Roman King (Xander Berkeley), a Centurion (Vinnie Jones), a high priest (Oliver Platt) and a couple hottie love interests, Maya (June Diana Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple).
From the film's opening moments, it becomes abundantly clear that no matter what potential may exist in "Year One" this film is going to completely suck even if they did manage to get Judd Apatow to sign on as a producer.
One of the film's earliest scenes shows Zed and Oh walking through a forest following the eating of the forbidden fruit when Oh encounters a gigantic snake. I sensed it..."Okay, here we go...edgy, sacrilegious humor," I said to myself. Gradually, the snake begins to climb up Oh until he's practically smothered by the snake.
Really. Nothing. "Year One" immediately cuts to another scene...no laugh, no resolution, no snake.
It gets worse.
Jack Black, whose acting skills basically consist of sarcasm and faux coolness, has largely managed to find roles throughout his career that have concealed the actual limits in his acting to the point that he was highly praised for his work in "School of Rock" despite merely offering a variation on his usual performance.
In "Year One," however, Black is all hype resulting in nothing but tripe. Black awkwardly blusters his way through the role of Zed without an ounce of sincerity or an iota of authentic humor. There's nothing, I repeat nothing, to like about Zed nor is there a single reason to care about his journey through holy history.
Cera doesn't fare a whole lot better than Black, though his history with Apatow likely contributes to his coming off a whole more effectively with the film's improvisational underpinning.
"Year One" relies almost solely upon bawdy, sophomoric humor and an over-abundance of fart, poop, pee and gay jokes that almost makes it feel like we're back watching "The Love Guru" again.
Thankfully, we're not.
Oliver Platt plays his hirsute high priest with non-stop camp, while David Cross really doesn't do much as the not really THAT murderous Abel and Paul Rudd's bit as the ill-fated Cain amounts to nothing more than a cameo. Hank Azaria fares well as the son-sacrificing Abraham, though his scene carries on way too long. Likewise, Christopher Mintz-Plasse appears to have been asked to create his "Superbad" character and serves us up a McSacrifice.
Juno Temple, June Raphael and Olivia Wilde do fine in supporting roles, though Ramis keeps with Biblical history and leaves his female characters mostly in the background except for a couple nice scenes between Cera and Temple.
More miss than hit, "Year One" falls woefully short of such Ramis classics as "Groundhog Day" and "Stripes" while not quite plummeting to the depths of the abysmal "Club Paradise."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic