Review: ‘Year One’

Following in the footsteps of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, writer/director Harold Ramis gives Biblical history an anachronistic re-write. While it looks like the filmmakers had a good time making the movie, not enough of it translates into a successful film with a seriously underutilized cast and a half-finished comedy script.

Zed (Jack Black) is a hunter who asserts himself too much; Oh (Michael Cera) is a gatherer who doesn’t assert himself enough. After being cast out of their primitive tribe, they literally walk out of the woods and into the Old Testament, discovering the likes of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, and the city of Sodom. Each new adventure seems to propel the two outcasts towards some kind of destiny, but is it one of accomplishment or certain doom?

Of an entire cast of fair comedic talent, only the non-confrontational and unassuming Michael Cera seems to have had a spotlight shined on him throughout the production. In direct contrast, it seems there were more opportunities for something hilarious to happen than actually did. Bill Hader as the tribal shaman? Hank Azaria’s Abraham barely had any lines. Even the over-wound Jack Black seemed subdued, as if each day began with a funeral just as a reminder that the cast is collectively blaspheming sacred Biblical texts and should act repentant. In truth, the script could have used a lot more divine intervention.

The movie seems to lose direction right after the Cain and Abel sequence as to what path to take in getting to the last set piece, Sodom. Even a random outburst from the Lord almighty received no follow up (random thunderbolts from the sky tend to get ones’ attention), especially in a time frame credited with God directly interacting with his people through many such miracle. In Sodom, things sink further still, culminating in some life lesson about being your best instead of worshiping God/gods. By this point, all the best gags seem to have been in the trailers with the movie itself merely filling in the blanks between sequences. And can anyone tell us where the reported budget of $60 million was spent?

As a suggestion, Bill Hader’s shaman should have been in much more of the beginning, offering wisdom and such since even the “great hunters” wouldn’t question him. With the director himself playing Adam, the following sequences could have done with more misunderstanding while others listened in on the innuendo, but instead we get a weak-at-best fart joke. Hank Azaria looks like he was on loan from Night at the Museum 2 but wasn’t allowed to deviate from the script. By the time everything concludes, the sum total felt more like a lazy ripoff of Dwayne Johnson’s The Scorpion King by a bunch of comedians who showed up for a check.

(a one skull recommendation out of four)

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