|Year One (2009)|
|Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical|
|Written by Daniel Hirshleifer|
|Tuesday, 23 June 2009|
Harold Ramis began his directing career auspiciously, helming the golf classic Caddyshack. He followed this up with the equally classic Chevy Chase vehicle Vacation, and in the early 90’s landed yet another enduring comedy winner with the wonderful Groundhog Day (and I can’t help but give him credit for the should-be-a-gimmick but aren’t romps that are Multiplicity and Bedazzled). And yet, despite these landmarks and his work as an actor in such venerable comedies as Stripes and Ghostbusters, Ramis’ career has been plagued with sub par elements. Whether it be the ill-conceived Al Franken stinker Stuart Saves His Family or the boring sequel Analyze That, Ramis’ career has not been without its missteps. After releasing the forgettable The Ice Harvest with John Cusack, Ramis shifted to television, directing several episodes of The Office. During that time, comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow expressed a debt of gratitude to Ramis, and gave him a small but memorable role in the criminally underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. While working on that film, Ramis pitched an idea that he had come up with decades ago with Bill Murray and John Belushi, and Apatow agreed to produce it. The result? Year One.
Jack Black stars as Zed, the worst hunter and gatherer in a prehistoric tribal village. He longs to mate with Maya (June Diane Raphael). Meanwhile, his best friend, Oh (Michael Cera) longs to mate with Zed’s own sister, Eema (Juno Temple), but finds that he is not masculine enough for her. One night, Zed is caught eating the forbidden fruit off the Tree of Knowledge, and while being exiled, accidentally burns down the village. Oh, now homeless, runs off to Zed’s aid. Once free from the confines of their village, the pair discover that the world is much wider and more technologically advanced than they ever knew. And on their journeys, they meet some very significant biblical figures, such as Cain (David Cross) and Abraham (Hank Azaria).
Year One isn’t a bad idea, and one can only imagine how it would have played out with John Belushi in the Zed role and Bill Murray as Oh. But Murray doesn’t particularly like Ramis these days, and Belushi has obviously gone to that great comedy stage in the sky. So instead, we get Jack Black and Michael Cera. And while the duo can be funny, they’re both comedians who have fallen prey to a very particular type of shtick. Jack Black plays the blustery, overconfident loser who secretly knows his shortcomings but does his best to overcome them, while Cera is a nervous wreck who makes quietly caustic comments under his breath while working up a lifetime’s worth of anxiety in every scene. And while this type of thing has worked for them in the past (Cera’s performance in Arrested Development is both funny and hilariously awkward), the act is wearing thin. Cera does get in a few good zingers, but on the whole, both of them are in desperate need of new material.
They don’t get much help from the script, which is aimless and at times plays like a third rate Life of Brian, but without the biting social commentary and fearless wit of the Monty Python troupe. Again, with improvisational greats like Belushi and Murray, the aimlessness of the flick might actually have worked to indulge the pair’s sense of comedic adventure, but in this incarnation the structure is lacking. As a director, Ramis doesn’t bring any surprises to the table, shooting the picture in a competent but un-engaging manner.
The best humor comes from the supporting cast. The girls aren’t particularly interesting, although certainly cute. Rather, it’s the people that Zed and Oh encounter along the way that generate most of the humor. Bill Hader makes a stealth appearance as the tribal shaman, Ramis himself plays Adam, the first man, Hank Azaria appears as Abraham, David Cross has a major role as brother killer Cain, and Oliver Platt hams it up as the high priest of Sodom. Ramis plays fast and loose with biblical tradition in a way that should be funnier than it is. Still, it’s often hilarious to see Azaria playing Abraham as a dogmatic, overbearing jerk, and Cross is a consistently enjoyable jerk as Cain. Platt really loses himself in the high priest role, and if the brief outtakes at the end of the film are any indication, had a great time doing it.
Year One isn’t terrible. It’s got some good chuckles hidden away in its tucks and folds. The problem is that Ramis seems to have forgotten how to capitalize on these things. I know Ramis is working on a new Ghostbusters with Dan Akroyd, and I can only hope that he musters more enthusiasm for that project than he did for this one.