By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
The bad buzz around Year One began building the morning after the Super Bowl, when the only thing anyone could remember about the ad for the film that had aired during the game was how unfunny it was. Now, almost six months later, the movie proves the commercial was misleading. Year One is not really that bad and not entirely without laughs, the way no episode of Saturday Night Live passes without invoking at least one fleeting chuckle.
The SNL comparison is apt, since Year One is really a collection of scattered skits — some skirting the outermost edges of that PG-13 rating — strung together to fill the minimum running time of what constitutes a feature film (95 minutes, including credits). Compared to Year One, even the Airplane! pictures come off as models of intricate plotting. More than once during the movie, I suddenly realized that I had absolutely no idea what was transpiring on the screen. Then I remembered that it really didn’t matter and just sat back and waited for the next joke.
The wait was never long. Director Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), who also co-wrote the script with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (writers on TV’s brilliant The Office), takes the personas of his two stars — the wild and woolly Jack Black and the polite and demure Michael Cera — and plops them into a series of situations, careful not to let too many minutes go by without a gag. Watch Jack Black eat human droppings! Watch Michael Cera rub massage oil onto the chest of a disgustingly hairy fat dude! And so on.
Some scenes have a prehistoric theme, like the mating rituals at the protagonists’ village, which involves conking women on the head with a large stick. Other situations have biblical underpinnings, such as the heroes’ encounter with a bickering pair of brothers named Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd), or a man named Abraham (Hank Azaria) who advocates a bizarre new ritual he calls circumcision: ”Trust me, it will be a sleek look,” Abraham promises. “This is gonna catch on.”
Eventually, Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) end up at a city known as Sodom (“Where sinners are winners!”), but even after the movie zeroes in on one locale, the plot still ambles all over the place. To be fair, there is undeniable humor in finding out what happens when a captive who has been shackled to a prison wall upside down needs to urinate. I double dare anyone not to laugh. Even Tommy Lee Jones would laugh at that scene.
And Black and Cera are game for whatever silliness Ramis throws at them: Unlike bad comedies in which you can practically see the actors squirming before the camera, hoping to just get the thing over with, everyone here appears to be giving their all — and having a fine time in the process. But the overall laziness permeating Year One eventually sinks the picture. A movie that doesn’t respect its audience enough to muster a sliver of a story is practically impossible to warm up to, no matter how likable its actors.
Year One is destined to become one of those movies you always stop to watch a little of while channel surfing late-night TV, but there’s too much dead air to warrant its survival past next week, when Transformers 2 arrives to clean house.
Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera, David Cross, Oliver Platt, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple.
Director: Harold Ramis.
Screenwriters: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg.
Producers: Judd Apatow, Clayton Townsend, Nicholas Weinstock.
A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language, risque humor, sexual innuendo, adult themes.