In year 1, Zed (Jack Black) and his friend, Oh (Michael Cera), are two inept cavemen just trying to survive. Zed is a lazy hunter with no skills, and Oh is a gatherer of nuts and berries. Zed is banished from the village after he eats the forbidden fruit. Oh decides to go with Zed on his epic journey to the end of the earth.
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Nearly thirty years ago, Dudley Moore made a pretty forgettable comedy called "Wholly Moses!" about the real story of Moses, as various well-worn bible stories were given a light irony wash through the eyes of its main character who reacted to them with the skepticism and confusion a person of today might.
"Year One" is basically that, but dumber.
Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) are just about the most worthless members of their tribe of hunter-gathers, as signified by their not particularly subtle names. Zed is a hunter who can't seem to hit anything but other tribe members, and mainly gets by on his outsize personality and talent for bullshit. It's almost as if Black were playing himself.
What follows is about 90 minutes of Genesis being retold as essentially one long, infantile sight gag. Zed tastes poop to figure out who did it, where they went and what they may have eaten. Oh spends the night with Adam's (director Harold Ramis) son Seth who likes to entertain with the different types of fart's he's capable of, and later after being hung upside down for some time by a local despot's guards, ends up peeing on himself.
Puerile humor can work. Judd Apatow (a producer of this film) and the creator's of South Park have built fairly successful careers off that sort of thing, and they do it well. But they do it smartly. The build and build to their punch lines, and they make sure the payoff matches the build. There are often some surprises in there as well.
"Year One" has none of that. Instead they have things like an extended conversation about what exactly circumcision entails. It's the sort of thing that Mel Brooks (who not coincidently has also done a better version of this sort thing before) would have done once, but just seems trite now.
But it's pretty obvious about 10 minutes in that, yes, they will go there. After that it's just a waiting game, and not a terribly interesting one.
It's just so hard to believe co-writer and director Harold Ramis is responsible for this. He's proven himself so much smarter than this. I can't begin to imagine what he was thinking here.
There's some enjoyment to be had when the gags are left behind and you're left with Zed and Oh reacting to their circumstances. This for the most part means Black and Cera falling back into comfortable routines that have served them well—Black as the worlds worst fast-talker, and Cera with his stumbling delivery and confusion over exactly how to engage in society.
They're doing it that way because it's worked before, and to be fair it does on occasions as Zed and Oh keep bumping into biblical figures that suddenly become contrite and self-conscious when they realize how crazy what they're doing seems to other people. It's is often genuinely funny, for about a minute or so, but gets quickly driven into the ground.
Seeing Cain (David Cross) try desperately, ineptly to cover up his brother's murder is kind of funny. Having him continually show up and be a jerk isn't. The same with Abraham's (Hank Azaria) stumbling explanation about why he was going to murder his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), versus his extended discourse about foreskins.
I think Ramis was trying to send up these old stories by putting them up to the light of modern culture, but it's so tone deaf, it's hard to believe the man who made "Groundhog Day" had anything to do with this.
It's not "The Love Guru" but it's not good. "Year One" will probably appeal to the lowest of common denominators, but anyone else may find themselves terminally bored