Starring Jack Black and Michael Cera; Directed by Harold Ramis; [PG-13] ::: for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence; 97 minutes
Review by Daniel M. Kimmel
Remember the early ‘80s comedies “Caveman” and “Wholly Moses?” Of course you don’t. Or, if you do, this is probably the first time you’ve thought of them in years. For those of us whose job it is to remember such cinematic crimes, they serve as precedents for the painfully bad YEAR ONE starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. If there is any justice in the world, there will never be a “Year Two.”
The film opens as if it is a spoof of “One Million, B.C.” Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) are two woefully inept cavemen. Zed hits one of his tribe with a spear meant for a boar, and when it’s pointed out he’s no good as a hunter or a gatherer someone adds that these are the only two job openings that exist. These are the jokes. It’s downhill from here.
Zed and Oh soon leave the tribe and head towards what Oh insists is the end of the world. Instead they find the world is large and that time has no meaning. From their primitive existence they run into Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), Abraham (Hank Azaria) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and eventually end up in Sodom. Along the way there are numerous “jokes” about excrement, urination, and sex.
The problem is that none of these jokes are funny, unless you think Zed tasting ape poop or Oh urinating on himself (when he’s chained to a wall upside down) are the height of wit. The only thing that even approaches cleverness – and it’s essentially an ethnic in-joke – is when Abraham explains how all the men in his camp will be circumcised and then adds that afterwards there’ll be wine and sponge cake. Only people who have attended a bris (a Jewish ritual circumcision) are likely to laugh at that.
Much of the latter portion of the film is bogged down in the absurd plot where the women Zed and Oh love – Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (June Temple) – have been enslaved in Sodom. This leads to Oh having to rub body oil on the lecherous high priest (Oliver Platt) while the ambitious princess (Olivia Wilde) gets Zed to enter a secret chamber of their temple. This leads to a not terribly helpful theological discussion as to whether there are many gods, one true God, or none at all. One gets the sense that as far as director Harold Ramis and his screenwriting collaborators Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg are concerned, God is merely a punchline.
That’s the real problem with “Year One.” Since the days of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” no one in Hollywood takes the Bible seriously enough to be able to tell its stories. From John Huston’s lumbering “The Bible” to Bruce Beresford’s campy “King David,” modern Biblical movies have been jokes. You’d be far better off skipping this and renting Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” At least they seem to know the story they’re spoofing.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.