Golden Sombrero (**): Year One Pees on its own face

Year One – 2009

Director Harold Ramis
Screenplay Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Olivia Wilde, Kyle Gass, June Diane Raphael, Ramis, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Xander Berkeley, Juno Temple, David Pasquesi, Paul Scheer

It’s been a full ten years since Harold Ramis’ last film, Year One. I am sure this is not the film he envisioned as a capper for a great career. It is a ridiculous stab at comedy that covers a lot of the same ground that Mel Brooks did in one of his lesser works, History of the World Part 1. The screenplay bounces around with stories and characters that are thousands of years apart in history, but settles in Sodom and Gomorrah. Too bad the story ends before the cities are wiped away.

The story, written by Ramis and two regulars of The Office, starts in a prehistoric tribe. Two bunglers, Zed and Oh (Black and Cena) are kicked out of the tribe because Black eats out of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve are nowhere to be found. There is a snake, but it looks like someone’s pet, it doesn’t talk and moves very slowly until the scene gets tired and they move on awkwardly. There are many scenes that end thus.

Next thing you know, the two have stumbled across Cain and Abel (Cross and Rudd). One of the film’s better casting choices finds Cross ambling along making excuses for his past behavior while he continues to do even more horrible things.

The cast is rather remarkable. Who would imagine they have enough talent to only include the likes of Rudd in one scene? The quality of their performances seems to vary from scene to scene. Sometimes there is an inspired moment (Zed talking his way out of a sacrifice). Then there is other, less glorious moments (Oh peeing on himself upside down). There seems to be no governor to the performances, just like the story. It clearly feels like Ramis is just throwing in a bunch of stuff (improv or not) that he and the editors passed for a chuckle.

A chuckle in 2009 is not the same thing as it was in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

This work, uneven as it is, is not horrible. This is Jack Black at his most improvisational, not great, but a decent batting average. Cera is the same person we’ve seen everywhere outside of Scott Pilgrim. If you like him, this film will be fine.

Oliver Platt’s High Priest is perhaps the most adventurous role. It comes across like an R-rated Dom DeLuise. Sometimes it’s funny, often it’s stomach churning. Mintz-Plasse provides an excellent contrast to the historical image of Isaac.

If the reviewer wasn’t predisposed to appreciate the work of Harold Ramis, there’s enough here to be even harsher in observation. Just as most of his work, it’s hard to resent, even if it’s not easy to appreciate. Given his track record for the last, this film is par for the course. This is not the miracle that pushed this great writer, actor and director back into the spotlight. It’s just a below average vehicle for two comic actors near the end of their prime.

(** out of *****)

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