I know I was laughing throughout “Year One” but I think it’s only because I have a good sense of humor and I enjoy the rush of endorphins that laughter provides. Trying to remember what exactly I laughed at, I couldn’t tell you. It’s a film that vanishes from your memory the second you leave the theatre and you’re left wondering what happened to the last hour and forty minutes and why your pants are missing (I have recently been informed that I am no longer invited to screenings of Sony films).
From what I can piece together, the film follows two cavemen (played by Jack Black and Michael Cera) as they make their way through various Bible stories including the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel (played by David Cross and Paul Rudd), Abraham and Isaac (played by Hank Azaria and Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the city of Sodom (which is ridiculously tame). There are pathetically feeble character arcs about Black’s character believing he’s special and Cera’s character being too chickenshit to talk to a girl who’s in no way interested in him. But the story (and it is a weak, borderline non-existent story) can be secondary to the comedy provided that comedy delivers. Sadly, the humor is almost completely forgettable.
The only jokes I can remember are the gross out gags. One involves Black eating bear shit; another involves Cera upside down and peeing down his own face. There is a good, non-gross-out joke about Abraham talking about chopping off the foreskin of his people and the absurdity of having that be the Jews’ covenant with God, but I remembered that joke simply because I’ve made it before. Most of the humor seems to be derived from stand-up comedy riffs on ancient times and so most of the material feels recycled. It all comes down to Black, Cera, and a couple of supporting players to carry the film. Without any real jokes or well-drawn characters, Black and Cera are reduced to doing their shtick and if you’ve seen “School of Rock” or “Superbad” or any of their other work, you know exactly what they’re going to do here: Black is highly energetic and physical while Cera is restrained and awkward. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it’s not particularly fresh and it reflects poorly on the actors because it almost turns their respective styles of comedy into a stock performance. A couple of the supporting characters come off slightly better. David Cross does a good job as Cain and it makes you wonder why he isn’t cast as smarmy characters more often. Bill Hader is funny in the two minutes he’s on screen as a witch doctor. Other than that, no one really gets to shine.
Without any memorable humor, story, or characters, “Year One” is a pointless endeavor and offers us nothing we haven’t seen or heard somewhere else before. It’s a terribly sloppy film, with editing that abruptly ends scenes and joke set-ups that never receive pay-offs. I can’t say I hated it and there’s nothing deeply insulting; it’s just stale and co-writer and director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) should be able to deliver a better comedy than this.
Rating —– C minus