Thursday, June 25, 2009

Year One

YEAR ONE (Harold Ramis, 2009)

Following in the tradition of Mel Brooks' HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I, the comedy YEAR ONE features Jack Black and Michael Cera as primitive, incompetent hunter-gatherers bumbling their way through the beginnings of recorded history. In keeping with their established cinematic personalities, Black's Zed is a cheerful idiot while Cera's Oh is a neurotic weakling.

These best pals are already outcasts in their village before a literal banishment from the tribe verifies their feelings of inadequacy. After being expelled they stumble out of the forest and into a series of encounters with David Cross as the treacherous Cain, Hank Azaria's circumcision-fixated Abraham, and the libidinous and virgin-sacrificing population of Sodom.

Black and Cera's shticks are starting to feel as old as the ancient times their characters inhabit in YEAR ONE. Black's dialed-to-eleven foolishness and Cera's low energy performance produce diminishing results because this plays like a lazily ad libbed film reliant on their familiar comedic postures.

The screenplay is credited to director Harold Ramis and THE OFFICE writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, but none of the wit found in their best work is displayed here. More often than not they settle for moments like Black eating crap on purpose and Cera oiling up a hirsute Oliver Platt in the fruitless search for laughs.

Other than rooting the humor in scenarios from religious texts rather than riffing on pop culture references, there's little separating YEAR ONE from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer comedic wastelands like MEET THE SPARTANS and DISASTER MOVIE.

Seeds of a better film are planted in potentially more fertile ground when YEAR ONE connects jokes regarding how traditions may originate from accidents and the power-mongering of rulers, basically anything but divine decrees, but it's not clever or funny enough to unleash the sorts of potentially blasphemous challenges put forth in Monty Python's LIFE OF BRIAN. This uninspired Torah-lampooning sketch comedy is as arid and empty as the landscapes which the protagonists wander across.

Grade: D+

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