Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky
Runtime: 97 mins
DVD Release: October 6, 2009
It’s about time filmmakers realized that biblical stories, or movies set during biblical times, while fascinating and for many people important, do not make for very good comedies. The exception to this rule may very well be Monty Python’s hilarious Life of Brian, but between 2007’s miserable Evan Almighty and the new Year One, it’s about time we left the Old and New Testaments alike to filmmakers making dramas. Maybe I’m just not schooled enough in either to get the jokes, but given that the bulk of the comedy emanating from Harold Ramis’ Year One is akin to bathroom and dorm hall humor, that’s probably not why I had a problem with this film. Aside from a few chuckles, Year One is a remarkable disappointment given the acting, directing, and writing talent behind its creation.
Year One stars Jack Black as Zed, an overweight, smark-alecky woodsman whose skills are somewhat lacking (he’s more apt to spear the fellow hunter than the hunted). Frustrated that the she-gatherer of his dreams Maya won’t have anything to do with his sad-sack slaying skills, Zed becomes angry and rebellious, dismissing the cautioning of his overly-careful pal Oh (Michael Cera) by tasting the “forbidden fruit” of knowledge (which, in movie form, look something like bronzed apples). Busted by another townsman, Zed spurns his people, inadvertently sets fire to the village, and dashes off into the forest convinced his destiny lay outside the redundant existence of the hunter-gatherer society. Unable to woo his own fair cavewoman Eema, Oh joins his friend Zed, if only because of guilt-by-association.
And so begins a confusing journey for the pair as they seek their “destiny” in the world beyond the forest. Old Testament tales abound; almost immediately they meet Kane and Abel, played by David Cross (known best for his fantastically funny ‘Tobias’ in the underappreciated Fox show Arrested Development) and Paul Rudd, star of the far superior comedy, I Love You, Man. Those even remotely knowledgeable of the Old Testament will remember this story, which leads to a fairly early exit by Rudd (sadly). Cross, however, sticks around for most of the movie, and unfortunately contributes few laughs as he pokes his head in and out of Oh and Zed’s adventure.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2961&w=m[/img]There are plenty of stories like this one. Oh and Zed prevent the killing of Isaac (Superbad’s uber-dork McFlavin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) by his father, Abraham (Hank Azaria). Azaria, whose most notable contribution to the comedy world is probably the slew of voices behind several The Simpsons characters (Apu, Moe, Chief Wiggum, etc) provides the best laughs in the film. He is on-screen a total of ten minutes, tops.
What’s the problem with this film? I have identified two issues: first, the writing. There simply aren’t many funny lines in this flick, which is jam-packed with all kinds of acting talent, from those I’ve already mentioned to Oliver Platt, Horatio Sanz, director Ramis himself, and of course Black and Cera. I figure the writing’s problem is the time period, which is hardly relevant for most of today’s audiences. Fewer and fewer people are familiar with these stories, which are also incredibly alien to the actors involved. There’s also a lot of garbage humor here, which is fine in teen or college comedies like Superbad or Role Models or I Love You, Man – all of which are set in 2000-and-something – but feel much out-of-place in this environment. It’s possible that people in the actual year one made jokes about bodily fluids, but it just doesn’t sit as well with me as it would were these crude lines dropped into a modern setting.
The second problem? Jack Black. His humor is zany, energetic, but if you ask me not particularly thoughtful. Truth be told, I haven’t enjoyed Black in a film since his launching role in the John Cusack comedy High Fidelity (2000), where he played a mouthy record store employee that offered scathing criticism of music tastes with every album. Admittedly, I’m biased and because I’ve been put off Black’s humor, I have avoided several of his films, including all that Tenacious D stuff. If you like that, then you might enjoy Year One more than I did.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2963&w=m[/img]Cera is funny, but if the writing’s not there his endearingly gentle and innocent 9-year-old schtick just isn’t very endearing.
I watched this film on DVD and must admit that the video was one of its strengths. The images make use of strong colors, impressive detail, and great sharpness. Set in forests, deserts, and the ancient city of Sodom, there is certainly more eye-candy here than the average laugher. Unfortunately, it’s low on laughs.
Like most comedies, there are no battles, sieges, or other on-screen events capable of showing off a pricey surround sound system. Most of the music fuses modern and exotic harmonies, but none of it is particularly memorable.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=2962&w=m[/img]First off, viewers have the option of choosing either the “theatrical” or “unrated” versions of the film, the latter offering several new scenes, none of which represent criminal negligence for their exclusion from the movie seen by theatre-goers. Deleted scenes amount to just over four minutes, while alternate and extended pieces tack on another fourteen. Most of these merely prolong the inane conversations of Zed and Oh. The DVD’s best offering is a 17 minute long featurette called Year One: The Journey Begins, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the impressive wardrobe selection along with plenty of sarcastic commentary from the film’s many funny actors.
Overall, Year One is not so painfully bad as it is painfully disappointing. Director Ramis, responsible for some of comedy’s most legendary films (including Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and Caddyshack) worked alongside The Office writer Gene Stupnitsky with only middling results. Actors who’ve proven themselves both recently and in years past fail to bring their script to life. It would be too harsh to call Year One a one-star movie, but it is hardly as epic as the literature on which it’s based.