Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie Review: Year One

Year One ½ *
Directed by:
Harold Ramis
Written By: Harold Ramis & Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg.
Starring: Jack Black (Zed), Michael Cera (Oh), Oliver Platt (High Priest), David Cross (Cain), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Isaac), Vinnie Jones (Sargon), Hank Azaria (Abraham), Juno Temple (Eema), Olivia Wilde (Princess Inanna), June Diane Raphael (Maya), Xander Berkeley (King), Gia Carides (Queen), Horatio Sanz (Enmebaragesi), David Pasquesi (Prime Minister), Harold Ramis (Adam), Rhoda Griffis (Eve), Kyle Gass (Zaftig the Eunuch), Bill Hader (Shaman), Paul Rudd (Abel).

There are some movies that are so colossally bad that you know some really talented people must have made the movie. They go beyond the level of normal badness, into a realm that is leaves you slack jawed with just how awful the film is. Year One is a film like that. Directed by Harold Ramis, who has some of the best comedies of all time on his resume (none better than Groundhog Day), starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, two actors who almost never cease to bring a smile to my face, and supported by a cast that includes David Cross, Oliver Platt, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria, Kyle Gass, Bill Hader and Paul Rudd – all of whom can be hilarious in the right role – Year One is a laugh free void. What the hell happened?

The film is about Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), two men from a tribe of hunter-gatherers off in the mountains who are not that popular with their tribe mates. When Zed eats from the tree of forbidden knowledge, he gets himself banished, and Oh, for reasons that remain unclear, goes with him. They set off on a journey to Sodom, along the way meeting people like Cain (David Cross) and his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his son Issac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), until they end up having to save their old tribe mates who have been made into slaves. Along the way there is a moment when Zed eats crap, deliberately, a moment when Oh pees on himself while upside down, and another when Oh has to rub oil on a very hairy priest (Oliver Platt), all of which turn your stomach to about the same degree.

I’m sure that when Ramis, or whoever came up the plot, they thought this was an opportunity to do something akin to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, poking fun at religious icons with a modern, irreverent sensibility. If that was their goal, then it must be said that they failed miserably. The movie just seems to go from one joke to another, none of them are funny, all of them delivered with a lack of energy, on its way to its inevitable conclusion. No one in Year One seems to be having any fun in their roles, and for a comedy, that’s deadly.

Jack Black is an actor of huge comic energy. Normally, he is great in his movies, but when he’s bad, it’s usually because the director never figured out how to rein in his comic outrageousness. Here, he’s simply going through the motions. Michael Cera plays the same shy, awkward kid he always plays, and usually plays well, but with little effort put into the role. I think they both knew this one was going to be a stinker, and decided not to try too hard.

And that’s really all I can say about the movie. It isn’t just bad, but like The Love Guru, it’s such a huge misfire, such a huge mistake, that it’s going to take a while for anyone unlucky enough to see it to get it out of their mind.

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