Year One
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // June 19, 2009
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted June 18, 2009
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Wow, that was embarrassing. Finally, David Cross has a movie to be more ashamed of than Alvin & the Chipmunks.

Year One should have been called Year Zero or even Year None, because that's how many stars I'm going to give it and that's how many laughs it got out of me. If there is a worse movie this year, I don't want to see it, as this is as low as I care to go. Criticizing what is wrong with a movie as awful as this is a difficult task, because there is very little to hang it on. It's just not funny, plain and simple. Not at all.

The idea here was that Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) and his pair of writers would shamelessly revisit the sketch-comedy concept of Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I, but limiting the material to the first book of the Bible. The fact that by no one's count this would actually be "Year One" shows you how little thought was put into the script. Excepting Adam and Eve, wouldn't the oldest person, then, be less than a year old? I'm just throwing it out there, because, you know, it's not even a good title, so I can't see why someone would have ever fought for it. I also realize it's not important, but I had to think about something to keep my mind occupied during this utterly dull piece of dreck.

Jack Black and Michael Cera star as the barely-upright-on-the-evolutionary-ladder versions of Jack Black and Michael Cera, Zed and Oh. Oh is presumably named Oh so that people could be surprised when they see him and say, "Oh!" As the first comedy duo, with Black as the funny fat guy and Cera as the hapless straight man, the two prove once and for all how old their schtick really is. You thought you were sick of Jack Black after just a few years, imagine what it would be like if you had been watching him dance and bug out his eyes since the dawn of time. Personally, I'd accept another worldwide flood if it meant not having to see him in a movie again, but with my luck, some meathead studio exec would market test him as Noah and put him on the Ark. Of course, that would mean we'd suddenly have one jackass two many, but I digress....

The long and short of it is that Zed eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as apparently he has lived in the old Garden of Eden all this time and not known it. This gets him banished from his village, and Oh follows him as he explores the world, running into Biblical characters like Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd), Abraham (Hank Azaria), and the full population of Sodom, the original Las Vegas as the film not so subtly reminds us. It was pretty clear in the first ten minutes, all the stuff at the village, that Year One was going to be awful, but I held out hope that the oncoming cameos--other pop-ins include Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Matt Besser, Paul Scheer, and Oliver Platt--would give us the occasional diversion and keep Year One from being a total waste. I mean, seriously, I thought it was impossible to have a bad Paul Rudd cameo, but Harold Ramis is a can-do guy when it comes to pushing quality into the middle of the road--or, in this case, off the road and into a ditch.

I am sure Judd Apatow, who produced this movie (as well as flicks like Walk Hard and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), has great affection for Harold Ramis, but letting him run wild with Year One is not the kind of tough love this filmmaker needs. The failure of this movie rests almost entirely with him. The direction is clumsy and half-hearted. There is no continuity in the editing, close-ups are poorly framed and poorly used, and the film's sense of comic timing is all out of whack. Most of the scenes are slowly paced, and rather than figure out how to get from one skit to the next, Ramis just cuts away, often before any real punch line, quite regularly making it seem like huge chunks of the story are missing. Early in the movie, Michael Cera is attacked by first a snake and then a cougar, and each time, we don't even see him get out of it. It's just, "Oh, look, a cougar," and then cut to, "Gee, that kind of hurt." Even the last scene, which keeps getting longer and longer, another bit getting tacked on just when you think it's over at last, fizzles out instead of delivering a gag. Unsure of what to do, Oh and Zed just walk away. Which makes way for the blooper reel, full of flubs and on-set cut-ups so you can see for yourself just how little anyone cared about this production.

A film with as broad a concept as Year One requires a go-for-broke attitude. This film should have been manic, silly, over-the-top, and raunchy, but instead it's reserved, timid, and narcoleptic. Most of the actors look like they are trapped and are dying to do their day of shooting and just get out, and I have to say, by the end of this, I know how they felt.

By the way, Gene Stupnitsk and Lee Eisenberg, the team who wrote this flop with Harold Ramis, are also writing Ghostbusters III. You may not be afraid of no ghosts, but you should be afraid of that.



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