10 October 2009

Movie Review: Year One


C-

Year One
2009, 96mins, PG-13
Director: Harold Ramis
Writer (s): Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Cast includes: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Juno Temple, David Cross, Oliver Platt, Olivia Wilde
Release Date: 19th June 2009

“Year One” is one of the most underwhelming comedic efforts in recent memory, a film that combines unquestionable talent behind and in front of the camera and which still struggles for laughs. Directed by Harold Ramis, who over the last 25 years has become a staple of American comedy, the film is tarnished via a relentlessly witless and juvenile parade of humor coupled with a narrative both loose and completely out of focus. It’s not quite amongst the year’s worst offenders but “Year One” is still a mighty failure by its creator’s once high standards.

The picture follows two Neanderthal’s called Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera). After the loudmouthed and ill-informed Zed is thrown out of their tribe for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the pair travels far and wide in search of greater purpose and adventure. They stumble across various inhabitants of the Old Testament before ending up in the city of Sodom, where their old tribe has been taken and are being forced to work as slaves. Together the bumbling duo plots to free the captured whilst in the process winning the affection of the women (Juno Temple, June Diane Raphael) they lust after.

One of the most unpleasant surprises sprung up by “Year One” is the lack of chemistry between Black and Cera, especially given how on paper they seem like such a natural fit. Both actors enjoy their best moments when away from each other, the quietly biting jibes of Cera just not melding beside the manic antics of his larger than life co-star. Black attacks the project with the expected energy and will for mayhem but beside Cera it feels forced and underexploited. Flat would be the best adjective to describe the lead pairing in “Year One”. Support is a bit more successful though a roster of fine comedians are largely wasted in thankless roles, the likes of Paul Rudd, Kyle Gass and Bill Hader given disturbingly little to work with in their allotted screen time. On the plus side David Cross is very funny in the part of Cain, the nefarious brother of Abel who pops up everywhere Black and Cera seem to go.

The plotline is weary and excessively unfocused, even by the standard of such freewheeling and anarchic offerings “Year One” is messy. The story lacks any sort of constructive direction before the final quarter, the characters ambling through the ancient world in an irritatingly blurred and almost pointless fashion. The movie seems more interested in inserting as many religious caricatures as possible at the expense of an engaging or linear story, the various skits interwoven with minimal skill or care for the audience’s patience.

The laugh quota isn’t impressive, the movie certainly offers some giggles but they’re mired in a swamp of unapologetically immature comedy. In “Year One” characters eat poop, urinate on their own faces, recount incestuous memories and joke often concerning genitalia. The movie does take a few swipes in the direction of religion but they’re largely wasted opportunities, and it would be remiss not to comment that large portions of the jokes on offer feel stale and unappetizing. Certainly when compared to something like “Life of Brian” “Year One” suffers in comparison, the films even sharing their own stoning sequences. The raucous humor isn’t completely worthless and through sheer force does equate to a few laughs but from these artists audiences ought to expect better.

Ramis’s direction isn’t bad; he even shoots some of the settings with a dose of smooth and lush photography, though admittedly his pacing of proceedings could be sharper. Various CGI effects fail to impress though the ambitious costume design is a nifty bonus and quite possibly the movies single greatest redeeming feature. I could believe that “Year One” was terrific fun to make but audiences will struggle to devour it with the same fervor, one can only hope that Ramis and co. manage to bounce back next time around


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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