Opens June 19At first impression, the new Jack Black/Michael Cera comedy “Year One” sounds like a recipe for a summer comedy hit. Take the comedic wild man Black and don’t let him shave for a few weeks. Pair him with rising comedic wimp Cera dressed in animal skins that showcase his skinny, white legs. Then plop them in a vague point in history somewhere between cavemen and the ancient Hebrews. Sprinkle in some well-known funnymen as guest stars and –- presto -– a summer blockbuster!
Unfortunately it doesn’t turn out quite as tasty as it sounds, even with legend Harold Ramis co-writing and directing.
“Year One” hits the mark in all the ways you’d expect it to. Both Black and Cera do what they do best -– Black is crazy-eyed and outrageous, Cera is hesitant and huggable –- and often times they make you laugh. But there is still something slightly desperate about their performances; like both the actors know they’ve milked their shticks for all they’re worth. This is especially true for Cera, who has yet to demonstrate any range beyond that of his beloved “Arrested Development” character George Michael. Cera has reached a point of physical and chronological maturity that makes his wimpy boyishness feel more creepy than pathetically cute.
But the most disappointing part of the film is the fact that Ramis and his co-writers tried so hard to create an uninteresting story instead of spending more time finessing the script and milking the clever concept for all of its potential.
The film follows Black and Cera on a journey across an unknown land after they are exiled from their primitive village. Along the way they meet a quarreling Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd, who unfortunately meets his fate far too soon), encounter Abraham (Hank Azaria) as he is about to sacrifice his insolent teenager Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), then find themselves sold into slavery, eventually landing behind the sinful city walls of Sodom. There they find their former tribes people, also being held captive.
It all sounds like an excuse for some crazy episodic comedy, which it is at times. But when the characters are forced to reach some resolution we don’t care about -– and then spend time pontificating on the meaning of it all -- the pace and tone become soured. Seriously, who really cares? It just needs to be funny, and smartly so.
Unfortunately, one thing the filmmakers do get historically accurate is the lack of female comedians in ancient times. It’s a shame since there are plenty of women in comedy today (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes) who could have added another much-needed layer of humor. Instead, we are treated to a stream of sexy, young actresses who are there entirely to inspire the funnymen to do their thing. Perhaps Ramis should have consulted with Mel Brooks (“Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein”) on the script. Now that’s someone who knows how to make equal use of a comedienne.
What Ramis and his team do take full advantage of is the freedom the time period gives for over-the-top, gross-out comedy. Way back when, people were unhygienic; so why not include lots of disgusting visuals? These people also had no morals; so let’s have them copulate with everything that moves, including sheep? They also puke, slop through mud, and literally eat feces. True, some of these jokes elicit hearty laughs. But more of them just leave you wanting to take a shower.
Sophisticated comedy this isn’t. If that’s what you’re looking for from Harold Ramis, you are better off renting his best movies “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.”
But if you are a fan of Jack Black or Michael Cera, or just up for a few laughs and an escape from the truly depressing news of modern times, then you will probably think this movie is just fine. But still, I’d recommend renting it instead.