'Year One': Comedy The Cro-Magnon Way

Jack Black in 'Year One' i i

Zed Last: Jack Black plays a failed hunter in Year One, itself a failed hunt for laughs. Sony/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sony/Columbia Pictures
Jack Black in 'Year One'

Zed Last: Jack Black plays a failed hunter in Year One, itself a failed hunt for laughs.

Sony/Columbia Pictures

Year One

  • Director: Harold Ramis
  • Genre: Slapstick comedy
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

PG-13: Potty jokes, bawdy humor, cartoonish violence

With: Michael Cera, Jack Black, Hank Azaria, Olivia Wilde

Jack Black (left) and Michael Cera in 'Year One' i i

Lost Boys: Zed and Oh (Michael Cera) mosey their way through antiquity in a tiresomely unfunny sort of way. Sony/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sony/Columbia Pictures
Jack Black (left) and Michael Cera in 'Year One'

Lost Boys: Zed and Oh (Michael Cera) mosey their way through antiquity in a tiresomely unfunny sort of way.

Sony/Columbia Pictures
Jack Black and Michael Cera in 'Year One' i i

Meatballs Too: Year One aspires to take its place alongside Monty Python's Life of Brian, but it has more in common with director Harold Ramis' lesser movies. Sony/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sony/Columbia Pictures
Jack Black and Michael Cera in 'Year One'

Meatballs Too: Year One aspires to take its place alongside Monty Python's Life of Brian, but it has more in common with director Harold Ramis' lesser movies.

Sony/Columbia Pictures

You might expect, in a movie that alternates gross-out gags with religious mockery, that the latter would be somewhat smarter. But in Year One, writer-director Harold Ramis' latest comedy, everything slides to the same level: exceedingly low and tiresomely unfunny.

Essentially a series of skits, the movie follows an inept hunter (Jack Black as Zed) and a wimpy gatherer (Michael Cera as Oh) as they leave a forest that may be the Garden of Eden. Zed has eaten glowing forbidden fruit that provides him the oh-wow wisdom of a first-time pot smoker — and leads to his expulsion.

Somehow, the two Stone Age pals trudge into Mediterranean antiquity, whose every era seems to be occurring at once. (There's no mention of Jesus, though; it's not that Year One.)

Zed and Oh meet Cain and Abel at a crucial moment, happen upon Abraham (Hank Azaria) as he's about to sacrifice a nerdy Isaac, and then rush to Sodom to rescue two young women. Eema (Juno Temple) and Maya (June Diane Raphael) are fellow villagers and potential mates who've been sold into slavery.

The guys find themselves in a city that combines wicked Babylon and decadent Rome, as well as DeMille's The Ten Commandments and Fellini's Satyricon. Plus, of course, the Three Stooges. Zed flirts with Princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde), while the lisping, ursine High Priest (Oliver Platt) tries to have his way with Oh. Finally, Zed undermines the people's belief in God — or at least in the local god, a pagan deity whose followers probably won't picket outside the multiplexes.

Amid the historical burlesque, Black and Cera play their usual roles — one blusters, the other whines — and speak in the phrases and rhythms of 2009. The incongruity might be amusing if it weren't entirely expected.

Ramis, who co-wrote the script, has never shown excessive gentility; his resume includes such sloppy farces as Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation and Ghostbusters. Even so, the amount of time the movie devotes to smelly human byproducts is a little surprising.

There is a crude box-office logic that argues for such material, as it does for the movie's gay stereotypes. What really doesn't make sense is the money sunk into ornate sets, and the effort made to subvert Old Testament parables. Or the heroic climax, during which Zed tries to introduce democracy to Sodom.

It's as if Year One's makers were taking themselves seriously. But it would take more than biblical pastiches to dignify this predictably juvenile, surprisingly slack parade of poop and penis jokes.

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