Year One goes back almost to the start of time. You know, back before there was laughter. And while Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) learn all sorts of new things on their travels – like what wheels are and the definition of circumcision – they never really learn how to entertain an audience.
It’s quite a struggle to try and wrap one’s head around the plot of Year One, because it’s like trying to find logic in dribble, structure in chaos, or humor in crap. Granted, there is a scene where Zed eats crap, but there’s no humor in it (just some berries). Nor is it funny when Oh pees on his own face. Or when he has to rub oil into the High Priest’s (Oliver Platt) hirsute, distended belly. Or when Cain (Arrested Development’s David Cross) beats Abel (Paul Rudd) to death.
Were one to attempt a description, it might be safe to say that Year One follows two early losers through too many loosely related skits where they encounter all sorts of mishaps. After getting kicked out of their village, the two wander until they end up in Sodom, endless sodomy references ensue, and find themselves on the wrong side of the king (great, now I’m making my own sodomy jokes). In their attempts to impress women, Zed and Oh find their masculine sides and actually discover they aren’t losers.
But really they are.
Directed by Harold Ramis, who shares writing credits with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, the film is a meandering series of dumb and dumber scenes that never learn from past mistakes. For example, every possible bodily function joke is tried, but they all reek. The whole Cain and Abel bit, which barely sustains one scene, is stretched through the entire film with Cross popping up at unexpected moments. After the hundredth time a joke fell flat, I started praying for fire and brimstone to destroy Sodom and just end the damn thing.
Cera’s shtick is the same as always, he’s just wearing a bad wig now. He stammers, he mutters dejectedly under his breath, and he tries to woo the girl by gyrating uncontrollably in his loin cloth. In a movie filled with uncomfortable moments, this image stands out. If you haven’t OD’ed on this persona yet, you may be able to stomach the performance. But what was once cute and endearing is now rote and feels old and tired.
Black, on the other hand, jumped over cute and endearing and went straight to old and tired. Zed is a bumbling idiot, but Black doesn’t make you like him or even laugh at him.
If Tropic Thunder hasn’t been released yet, they could have used footage from Year One as an example of the horrible, sell-out films the actors make just to score a quick buck. There are certainly enough excrement jokes to make the substitution possible. Running around in his loin cloth (not pretty) Black makes you want to join the mob trying to stone Zed to death.
Perhaps the oddest character in this weird ensemble is Platt’s High Priest. He plays the role as an odd homo that’s wildly flamboyant, caked in make-up, and who leers over the young, barely-developed Cera. When Oh starts to rub oil into the High Priest’s belly hair, it’s a perfect time for a bathroom break. Trust me, you’ll be nauseous.
Everything about Year One just feels cheap. From the sets, to the costumes, to the jokes, it’s bargain basement material. Don’t waste your time, because in no uncertain terms, Year One is one to skip this year.