Is Harold Ramis’ Year One a good movie? Not by a long shot. Did I laugh while watching it? I’m ashamed to say, I did. There’s nothing complex or sophisticated about the humor on display here — it’s a caveman comedy for cryin’ out loud — but with the level of talent involved, I did expect a bit more than fart, poop, and sodomy jokes. This territory has been covered before and, really, none of the previous attempts to milk laughs out of prehistoric or Biblical times have been all that successful. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian certainly has moments but fare such as the Dudley Moore feature Wholly Moses and the Ringo Starr “epic” Caveman were one note, slipshod movies that were nothing more than a series of gags — some hits, but mostly misses.
Year One falls in the same category as it follows the misadventures of Zed and Oh (Jack Black & Michael Cera) two members of a tribe of hunter-gathers who couldn’t kill an animal or forage for food to save their lives. Other members of their group have no problem defecating behind their huts or bullying them on a whim. Feeling he’s destined for far more than this abusive existence, Zed one day eats from the Tree of Knowledge and once he ingests the forbidden fruit, he sees things in a new light, or claims he does. Fearful that his transgression will bring a curse upon the tribe, he’s thrown out and Oh, reluctantly joins him as they set out to find a better life.
This premise allows Ramis and his co-screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, to riff on the Bible as on their journey Zed and Oh witness the slaying of Abel (Paul Rudd) by his brother Cain (David Cross), prevent Abraham (Hank Azaria) from killing his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and before you know it, turn this into a modern Hope/Crosby flick named The Road to Sodom as they wind up in that famous den of iniquity.
The comedy generated along the way is as meandering as the journey itself. While I can’t say that scatological humor is my favorite, Black does get some mileage out a scene in which he thoroughly examines a pile of poop, which had me chuckling, as did moments in which Cera is forced to apply oil to the chest of a high priest (Oliver Platt) who could be mistaken for a bear by a blind man. Again, nothing complex here, simply silliness for silliness’ sake. These simple gags butt up against throw away lines that apply our modern sensibility on these ancient situations. When Oh complains that he’ll never get anywhere with the fetching Eema (Juno Temple) because he “still lives with his parents,” or Abraham promises that circumcision will catch on because it’s “a very sleek look,” you admire the cleverness of the joke yet groan at the same time.
Really, Year One would probably work a bit better if you’d imbibe while watching it. With a beer or three in you, the sight of Black unsuccessfully hunting yak with dull arrows or Cera clubbing Temple over the head in a caveman mating ritual might well be the most hilarious things you’ve ever seen. This one has home video hit written all over it as not only will you be able to get a bit tipsy while watching it but you don’t have to worry about being embarrassed for laughing in the privacy of your own home.
Year One is now playing at the Beverly and Savoy cinemas.
Runtime: 1 h 40 mins — Rated PG-13 — Comedy