Year One review

Jack Black and Michael Cera team up with Harold Ramis for a brand new comedy. But is Year One worth buying a ticket for?

Jack Black in The Year One

Year One is the new comedy from the increasingly prevalent Apatow Productions, those crazy folks who brought you the genius of Anchorman and the casual misogyny of Knocked Up. The biblical-era romp has one large difference though, the presence of the legendary Harold Ramis. In a timely fashion, Year One is released the week Ghostbusters celebrates its 25th anniversary, and like Ghostbusters, was co-written by the man himself. That’s about where the comparison ends…

The movie follows two hapless hunter/gatherers Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) as they search for a better, more interesting life. And, of course, women. Thrown out of their Eden-style village for eating the Forbidden Fruit, the pair find themselves living and changing the course of what could very well have been the Old Testament. Witnessing the death of Abel at the hands of his brother Caine (Paul Rudd and David Cross, respectively), being sold into slavery, living with Abraham (his son totally deserved it, by the way), narrowly escaping the world’s first circumcision, and an orgy at the Palace of Sodom are just some of the scrapes the pair get into on their search. Expanding the horizons of a hunter/gatherer would appear to be quite dangerous work…

What should have been a reasonably warm-hearted and hilarious jaunt through Judeo-Christian mythology turns out to be little more than an excuse to torture Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad). He’s hit, punched, painted gold, hung upside down, peed on… the list is endless. That’s not to say that Cera isn’t eminently watchable – he gets all the best lines, and despite some of the worst/most revealing costumes he’ll probably ever wear, his performance is one of the movie’s only highlights.

The usually effervescent Jack Black seems strangely subdued, as does David Cross, but it’s not the acting that’s the problem. As is expected with an Apatow production, the supporting and guest cast are always spot on, and Year One is no exception. Paul Rudd, Hank Azaria, even Harold Ramis all add a much needed touch of class to the proceedings, but Oliver Platt’s high camp high priest steals every scene he’s in, and will not be forgotten in a hurry. Platt (last seen in Frost/Nixon) and the rest of the actors playing the royal family from Sodom do so in English accents – some of the best English accents you’ll ever hear from the mouths of Americans – the acting is not the problem…

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It’s the script. Despite the pedigree of the writing talent, the script just doesn’t deliver. There are one or two funny moments – the comedy of circumcision never fails to get a laugh, but it’s just not good enough, Harold Ramis! Those of us who were there when Ghostbusters was first released have particular expectations of a man who is capable of writing such funny, smart, warm and timeless comedy (take note, Dan Aykroyd) and Year One is so far off the mark it’s almost funny. Almost.

If you absolutely have to see Michael Cera in a loincloth, wait for the DVD – the gag reel’s got to be worth a watch…

3 stars
(You can thank Oliver Platt for the third star)

Read Ron Hogan’s take on Year One here.

Rating:

3 out of 5