REVIEW: Year One

Year One is the newest comedy to be throttled out of the summer scene. Starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, you know what you’re getting into – a dopey and moronic man connecting with a timid and sarcastic younger man. Set in the early ages of civilization, Year One explores nothing new, nor does it attempt to. Instead we are supposed to laugh at the same old comedy bits by the same old actors who basically innovated such bits. Needless to say, this is not the finest hour for either star.

The story starts off with two unlikely friends Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) doing their assigned jobs for the village they live in: Zed (unhumorously) blundering and spearing one of his fellow hunters and Oh (somewhat humorously) being bullied whilst gathering berries. The next scene shows the two have a bond that’s not all that strong, but nonetheless true.

So Zed, fed up with his lack of appreciation in the village thinks its a good idea to do the worst thing imaginable – this is to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge.

He does. He gets caught. He gets banished. Oh follows suit by ‘accident’. They being to walk.

Not exactly the most inspired or refreshing tales, is it?

Rather than rewrite the script into something a tad more profound and/or funny, the film continues on this path until the 100 minutes conclude. Hank Azaria brings quite a few laughs with his cameo performance; Juno Temple is adorable; Black and Cera have moments of hilarity… but in the end, it’s nothing new and certainly nothing memorable.

Plenty of times, the film prompts questions about life and fate. Oh and Zed find themselves meeting up with people from their old village through the slave trade a few times – they even blatantly point out how it’s all thanks to God or it’s all randomness and fate. I’ll save my issues with this aspect for the end of the review.

As you’d expect, but hope to be untrue, Year One resorts to crude humor (ie. penis/fart jokes) quite often and to show you how below average this film is, those are more or less the high points of comedy. The main humor to be had is Black’s abrupt and loud shtick mixed in with Cera’s awkward and rambling shtick – but even this unstoppable freight train of laughter falls off the tracks way too many times to be consistently anything.

I read earlier this week that Woody Allen decided to dismiss an entire score for his film Love and Death because he felt it made the film unfunny. In Year One’s case, the saying couldn’t be more true. Theodore Shapiro provides a score on an epic scale (think Apocalypto or Lord of the Rings). With the thunderous banging of drums and an attempt at suspense and thrills, it clashes morbidly with the project itself. The film is neither suspenseful (though it may try to be here or there), nor is it meant to be at all ‘heart-pounding’. Perhaps if the score had been more accompanying to the frothy and buddy nature of the film, it would’ve been less painful to sit through.

In the end, the film asks questions about God and life, but like a stutterer trying to alliterate, it’s unintentionally funny and cruel to watch.

Director/writer Harold Ramis doesn’t appear to aspire to make such profound statements about the biggest subject imaginable (if he did, I feel terribly sorry for him) which doesn’t make it as bad as it could be – but the fact that he even mentioned the meaning of life on several occasions disappoints me. Not that it wasn’t funny, but that in a film where he left out so many ideal scenarios, he had to reinforce a generally unfunny film with a generally profound subject. A terrible decision that resulted in the biggest laugh of the film: where Ramis answers the question that he asked himself.

Year One is a generic buddy comedy that uses its setting to no advantage at all. It isn’t witty, nor satirical to events preceding the first year post-Christ. Instead it takes the low road and never once strays from its course. As far as cheap laughs come, Year One is packed full of them, but it isn’t anything to base a film around.

You may question me for going into a film that looked poor from the trailers, but just remember, I saw it so you don’t have to.

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