Examine the cast and crew of Year One on paper. Jack Black is that loud, boisterous physical comedian famous for his improvisation, his rubbery facial features, and his bombastic nature. Michael Cera, on the other hand, is the permanent-teen boy star who trades on his nonthreatening looks and gawky body to provoke laughs out of awkwardness, subtle sarcasm, and unusual situations. Team the two up with Harold Ramis, the writer behind Ghostbusters and Animal House, and what do you get? Well, not much.
Zed (Jack Black) and Og (Michael Cera) are two misfit cavemen. Zed is a hunter, but he’s widely seen as the worst hunter in the village. Og is a gatherer, but he’s so scrawny and meek he’s not much at even woman’s work. When Zed has a supposedly hilarious accident involving his spear and the shoulder of a fellow tribesman, Zed is banished from the village (which he promptly burns down) and begins a trek across time itself.
Well, actually, Zed doesn’t trek across time, it just seems that way. Somehow, Zed and Og’s primitive tribe of cave folks just so happen to live slightly west from Cain (David Cross in one of the movie’s few bright spots) and Abel’s field. And after some more shenanigans, they move even more west to run into late-period Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Abraham (Hank Azaria) before going even further west and into the depths of the infamous city of Sodom, ruled over by the villainous stereotype high priest (Oliver Platt). Apparently one can transcend hundred of years just by walking from left to right. Who knew?
I was excited when I saw Harold Ramis was attached to direct. I thought, “Oh, he’ll be good. He did National Lampoon’s Vacation, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day!” Shame that’s not the Harold Ramis who showed up for work on Year One. Instead, we got the bloke behind Stuart Saves His Family and Analyze That.
The pacing is uneven, and the movie seems to stumble along drunkenly rather than flow. The scenes in the caveman era drag on way too long and the middle part of the film seems to move too quickly. The ultimate goal is Sodom, but why spend so long in the caveman huts and almost no time in the traveling caravan of desert Hebrews?
There are some particularly painful fart and poop jokes that go on too long, as well as jokes concerning eunuchs, body hair, and circumcision. All they needed was to add Will Ferrell soaking in dinosaur piss to make it complete.
Black’s act has gone far beyond stale, and this film isn’t quality enough to make us forget about him while the other characters take the lead. Michael Cera is good as Black’s straight man, but he can’t carry the movie by himself (nor does he get the chance to). There could’ve been more of David Cross’s Cain and a little bit less of Oliver Platt’s High Priest. Hank Azaria channeling Charlton Heston was more distracting than funny, and we could’ve seen more from Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s smart-assed take on Isaac.
All the focus on Michael Cera in the trailers made me forget I was dealing with yet another vehicle for Jack Black. Year One seems like it started life out as a different kind of movie that got turned into something studios felt would work for Jack Black. That’s the only reason I can see for how this movie turned out the way it did.
Year One was not a very good film. It tries to be a satire and fails. It tries to be a crude comedy and fails. I love a good gross-out gag as much as the next dude, but if you’re going to go that route, take a page from The Hangover and go all the way. If you’re going to be a satire, take a page from Tropic Thunder and go all the way. Don’t hand me a toothless mash-up of Mel Brooks’ History Of The World Part One and Monty Python’s Life Of Brian, add in some rude noises for the kids, and call it a day.