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Jack Black and Michael Cera in Year One.

Suzanne Hanover

1 out of 4 stars


Year One

  • Directed by Harold Ramis
  • Written by Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg
  • Starring Jack Black and Michael Cera
  • Classification: 14A

In the beginning, back in the late seventies and early eighties, there was Monty Python's Life of Brian , Mel Brooks's History of the World: Part I and Harold Ramis, first of SCTV and later Caddyshack and Groundhog Day fame.

They begat a new generation of comics including the bumptious, fatted Jack Black and producer Judd Apatow, whose comedies, which multiplied upon the screens, included Superbad , starring the sensitive string bean Michael Cera.

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Lo, the Hollywood gods declared that this was good and profitable and someone had a bright idea: "Why don't we get Ramis to direct one of those historic, episodic sketch comedies with a couple of contemporary dudes?"

Thus Black and Cera posed in cave-man outfits for an amusing poster. Then the movie was brought forth and things went downhill.

In Year One , Black and Cera star as stone-age buddies Zed and Oh (respectively), who are as unskilled in romance as they are in the only two careers available, hunting and gathering: Zed yearns for the curvy Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Oh is crushing on the sweetly dizzy Eema (Juno Temple). But before they can make any headway, Zed and Oh are banished from their village after Zed eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which doesn't make him any smarter. While wandering away from their forest home, they see evidence of other humans, and Zed snacks on some poop, which doesn't make the movie any smarter either.

They wander across the desert into Old Testament times, and meet a truculent Cain (David Cross), fighting with his brother Abel (an uncredited Paul Rudd). Later, they meet the zealous Abraham (Hank Azaria, in the movie's best performance), who is attempting to sacrifice his unwilling son, Isaac (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a.k.a Superbad 's McLovin').

These Biblical encounters, featuring characters who mix intellectual obtuseness and a penchant for violence, are the scenes most obviously derived from Monty Python.

When Abraham tries to introduce them to his new idea for honouring God, Zed and Oh save their foreskins by running away to Sodom. There, they spend the last half of the movie trying to rescue Maya and Eema, who have gone from being cave girls to slave girls.

Perhaps the best that can be said for Year One is that it aims low and hits the mark. Black blusters and Cera bumbles in very familiar ways here, and they react to a sequence of humiliations with their contrasting speech volumes. Even if you never tire of Black and Cera's personas, the material - written by Ramis and The Office 's Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg - is flimsier than Salome's veil. Jokes that are mildly funny seem to be repeated three times, and those that aren't, a couple of times more than that.

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The city of Sodom is portrayed as a sort of blend of prison and 24-hour toga party, where guards and leaders have unexpected English accents and virgins are sacrificed to encourage rainfall. ("What a waste of a perfectly good virgin," sighs Zed.)

The court has a sympathetic princess (Olivia Wilde from the TV series House ), who becomes their ally. There's also a running gag that grows progressively homophobic, with Oliver Platt playing a mincing, heavily made-up high priest, with a fondness for hot-oil massages.

As part of its bits-and-pieces approach to comedy, Year One features a number of cameos, including appearances from Saturday Night Live 's Horatio Sanz and Bill Hader and even a part for Kyle Gass, Black's partner in the musical duo Tenacious D. He plays a eunuch who carries his petrified testes around in a cloth bag.

For anyone curious to know what Year One could have possibly left out, the closing credits are accompanied by a collection of flubbed takes, which are about as funny as what's in the movie. They reveal that the performers, at least, appear to have been having a good time.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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