Friday, June 26, 2009

'Year One' is a tremendous let down

There are few movie going experiences more disappointing than being let down by a film you were anticipating. With “Year One,” in spite of all the negative reviews, I was ready to laugh, but alas I have to join the majority in saying that “Year One” is a dud.

“Year One” stars Jack Black (“Tropic Thunder”) and Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Superbad”) as a couple of hapless Neanderthals who essentially start off on the first ever road trip after Black eats the forbidden fruit and gains the knowledge of good and evil.

In this case this knowledge is to make an idiot an arrogant, insufferable know-it-all even though he is no smarter. That sounds funnier on the page than it does in execution.

The characters use modern slang and language, and the juxtaposition with the setting, in theory, can be fun. Mel Brooks and Monty Python have done this well in the past. The plot jumps around the early days of Biblical history and includes run-ins with Cain and Abel and Abraham and Isaac.

Just as the film seems on the path to being a Biblical satire along the lines of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” it veers off and settles on having Black and Cera go on a rescue mission to save their potential girlfriends.

To be sure, there are a few big laughs, but they are stretched very thin. Most of the best bits are in the trailer and, in some cases (the stoning scene comes to mind) are better edited in the trailer.

The invaluable Hank Azaria, most recently seen in “A Night at the Museum 2,” is a welcomed presence in the film and squeezes every bit of humor out of his appearance as Abraham. He has a funny bit involving circumcision that recalls a similar routine in Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

The fight between Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd) is also amusing. Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers as to who wins. Aside from the occasional clever one-liner, that’s pretty much it in terms of laughs as the film gets bogged down by plot.

It is hard to say what went wrong here as the film has an excellent comedy pedigree. The film is directed and co-written by Harold Ramis with two of the writers of “The Office," and produced by reigning comedy king Judd Apatow.

Ramis is clearly trying to make a throwback to the films he directed and/or co-wrote in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With films like “Animal House,” “Vacation,” Caddyshack,” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters,” Ramis helped to create the slob humor this film is trying to emulate, but there was a certain degree of sophistication to those earlier films. You have to be smart to do stupid humor well.

Too often the gags in “Year One” are simply gross and cringe inducing. This holds most true for a character played by the normally reliable Oliver Platt. His character likes to have oil rubbed into his hairy chest. If reading that sounds bad, then you don’t want to see the visual which is at least 10 times worse.

Aside from better jokes, for a comedy like this to work you need to take the
“Airplane” approach of throwing as many jokes at the screen as possible and hope more stick than don’t. Here the energy is slack and meandering and the humor relies too heavily on what could be called the four Ps: pratfalls, poop, piss and penis.

The film also leans too heavily on Black’s shtick. Black can be a very funny performer, but he needs to be reined in and be given good material. Ramis allows him to roam free far too much, and his mugging becomes more irritating than amusing.

Cera fairs better, and his deadpan, dry delivery goes a long way, but he can only create so much goodwill with the audience.

I really wanted to like “Year One,” but this is just not worth a trip to the theater. If you must see it, wait for DVD.

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