Old 09-05-2009, 12:50 PM
Harold Ramis's Year One

Year One (2009)

How is it that Harold Ramis, the brilliant mind behind such classic comedies as “Groundhog Day,” “Ghostbusters,” “Vacation,” and “Caddyshack,” ever conceived of such a disaster as “Year One?” He takes what could have been an interesting premise and turns it into a completely uninspired mess, resulting in what is probably the worst comedy of the year.

Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) are members of a hunter/gatherer tribe. Zed tries to be a good hunter, but is not particularly gifted at it, while Oh, a gatherer, is a shy young man who mostly goes unnoticed by the village. When Zed eats of a forbidden fruit, he is exiled from the village, but not before he accidentally burns it down. With Oh’s help, he escapes and their adventures begin as they run into several biblical characters including Cain (David Cross), Abel (Paul Rudd), and Abraham (Hank Azaria). Eventually they end up as guards in the city of Sodom, where they plan to rescue some of their fellow villagers who have been captured and sold into slavery.

So this is what Harold Ramis has been reduced to, piss and fart jokes? There is not a single genuine moment in this entire film, nor a single funny one. The characters are simply there to meander about and attempt to get into interesting situations, none of which ever take off. It’s so sad to see such talent like Rudd and Azaria have to be in something like this. The paycheck must have been irresistible.

What’s even more remarkable is that they are not given much to do. Rudd, as Abel, gets killed immediately, and Azaria’s lines are reduced to a few jokes about circumcision. Another talented actor, Oliver Platt, is given the role of the high priest of Sodom, but his performance is just embarrassing as all he’s given to do is flirt with Oh, and have him rub oil on his disgustingly hairy body.

Jack Black can be funny sometimes, but here, it feels like he’s forcing it the whole time. The sad part is, he thinks he’s being funny, when all of his jokes are just unsuccessful attempts at humor. There’s nothing more unfunny than an unfunny comedian who thinks their funny, but at least Black is trying here, milking every line for everything it’s worth, which sadly isn’t a lot.

Michael Cera, on the other hand, is not trying at all. He plays the same bland character that he plays in every other film. This character worked for “Juno,” but he needs to figure out that it hasn’t worked for anything else since. His biggest problem is that he never emotes. He just says every line in the same bland way. As I mentioned previously in my review of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, he is the one reason why I can’t get excited about the new “Scott Pilgrim” movie coming out next year, as his personality is the complete opposite of the character.

Luckily, the fault cannot be placed on Ramis alone. He co-wrote the script with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, whose experience mostly comes from the equally unfunny “The Office.” That actually goes a long way towards explaining the failure of this film. If they are merely going to bring over the level of humor from “The Office,” then of course it’s not going to work out well. It’s quite possible that this might have seemed funny on paper, but a few read-throughs should have quickly dispelled the possibility of this turning into a good comedy.

The film’s biggest downfall probably came when it was determined it would be rated PG-13, therefore the humor had to be reduced to what it was for a younger audience. This also resulted in a very tame Sodom. Not that raunchiness would have helped the film any, it’s just that, at this point, it couldn’t have hurt it anymore.

Basically, the only good things about this film are that it’s short (it runs only about 90 minutes) and its production design is decent, though nothing incredibly impressive. There could have been a great comedy here had the writers taken advantage of the interesting situation that their characters were in, but they just couldn’t find the comedy in it. It’s sad to have to say that the funniest parts of the film lie in the closing bloopers. 2/4 stars.
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