Sony // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // October 6th, 2009
Year One boasts quite a comedic pedigree behind and in front of the camera, yet somehow the movie doesn't click. The film has a few instances of raucous hilarity to recommend it but overall gets weighed down via an aimless story and a reliance on jokes that are all too often embarrassingly juvenile or ironically ancient. Harold Ramis is a keen enough filmmaker to steer the picture from total disaster, but the project is never better than mediocre, and even such an unenthusiastic adjective as that would seem generous on occasion. It would be harsh to call out the movie as an utter failure but given all it could have been, I wouldn't begrudge a fan of comedy if they left Year One severely disappointed.
The film takes place in the dawns of time and follows the exploits of two caveman called Zed (Jack Black, School of Rock) and Oh (Michael Cera, Juno). Zed is an inept hunter with a tendency to annoy the tribe's more respected members, whilst Oh is a wimpy gatherer who secretly pines over local beauty Eema (Juno Temple, Atonement). The duo are good buddies and so when Zed is expelled for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Oh goes with him, leading to what the film would like us to believe was the first and most epic road trip in history. They travel far and wide meeting an assortment of figures from the Old Testament, before arriving in the ancient city of Sodom, to help free their newly enslaved lady loves.
Year One suffers from a terribly jumbled and unsure narrative, only a slim storyline clearly emerging come the end credits. The film meanders through various sequences that just don't solidly link as a whole, and its reinterpretation of the Bible is more hackneyed than inspired. The screenplay tosses in an excess of underdeveloped comedy caricatures for the two leads to play off, and one can almost see the writer's ticking off appearances of important religious figures rather than actually trying to construct a satisfying and acceptably joined story. For a film like this, it's laughs that are key, such flaws as a plotline that goes nowhere are almost forgivable, yet for that to be the case, the feature has to hit consistently amusing notes. It would be remiss of me to say that Year One never achieves chuckles, but they're a depressingly thin and intermittent commodity.
The two leads are fine separately but as a pair they don't ignite; each has his best moments in Year One when relieved of the other's company. The chemistry between the duo lacks fizz, and whilst Black's manic routine coupled with Cera's understated sarcasm might have seemed like a perfect fit in the trailers, it never feels enthused or energetic enough for feature length. Both are gifted comics but I wouldn't be clamoring for them to reteam in the future, in a weird sort of way when thrust on screen together they almost seem to cancel each other out. The supporting cast consists of a menagerie of fabulously entertaining people given precious little to do. Paul Rudd, Hank Azaria, Kyle Gass, and Bill Hader all show-up but are failed by the writing, left with predictable parts way below each individual's comedic potential. David Cross (Alvin and the Chipmunks) deserves kudos though, his determined and reasonably funny turn as the nefarious Cain provides the movie with a lot of its most diverting moments. Cross has a commendable work ethic, and his dialogue delivery is of the sort that actually makes lines seem funnier. That's what comic actors should do, and what many of these people have done in other movies, yet in Year One they seem underplayed and wasted by those at the filmmaking helm. Attracting big names to the project helps, but it doesn't automatically guarantee a roster of side splitting accomplices for our ragged heroes.
The mentality of the film is consistently lowest common denominator; people eat excrement, urinate on their own faces, and frequently reference genitalia. In fairness the movie never makes an apology for its immature barrage of gags, and I'd be lying if I denied laughing on a few select occasions, but obviously the bathroom humor and sex jokes tire pretty fast. A few barbs at religion are bandied about but they don't amount to much, and the general vibe given off by the script is one of stale repetition. Year One has little fresh to offer the audience, and by drawing such obvious parallels with the works of such greats as Monty Python it only damages its credibility further. The movie actually has its own stoning scene, for Christ's sake!
There are sparse usages of CGI that are, for the record, horrible, though Ramis's depiction of ancient times isn't completely worthless. His forest settings feel believably lush in their composition and the costume design is little short of awesome. The DVD also has a surprisingly decent arrangement of additional content. A commentary with Black, Cera, and Ramis is an easy and rather funny listen, whilst a 17-minute making of at least suggests that everyone had a great experience making the movie. For additional laughs viewers can turn to the gag and improvisation reels whilst also tucking into a healthy supply of deleted and alternate scenes. Several of these offerings are as if not funnier than large portions of the actual production. Rounding things out are a preview-tastic selection of trailers for movies set to invade multiplexes and DVD shelves in the next six months.
Year One was both a critical and box-office failure on release; hyped as one of the summer's biggest hitters, the film flailed pathetically for a few weeks in June before completely disappearing shortly after. Pundits expected a far grander turn out for a flick that combined the unstoppable Jack Black with the director of Groundhog Day, yet somehow audiences smelt a stinker, and duly stayed far away. I'm not sure if I agree the film deserved such a harsh treatment, it does admittedly underachieve and leave much to be desired, yet to mention it in the same terms as notorious comedy busts like The Love Guru and the Friedberg/Seltzer oeuvre is to do it more discredit than it warrants. By all means skip Year One but for its reputations sake, don't simply lump it in with the worst examples of American comedy. It may not be good but it sure as hell isn't that bad.
A disappointing slice of anarchic comedy, Year One probably isn't worth your time. I found the odd bit funny and as a whole it's not as toxic as say Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans, but still, use your time more wisely and revisit some of its director's or star's back catalogues instead. Sony on the other hand has done a pretty sweet job with the disc, especially given the production's lack of financial clout.
Regrettably, Year One is guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site