What happens when the director of Forty Year Old Virgin (Judd Apatow), the creator of Ghost Busters (Harold Ramis) and some of the world's most talented comedic actors (Jack Black, Michael Cera) get together and make a movie? Well, let's just say not exactly what you'd expect. It brings me no joy to announce: Apatow and company's Old Testament era comedy, Year One is a disaster of biblical proportions.
There's no question that Apatow (who produced the film) and his coterie of writers, actors and comedians are all very funny people. Also, Ramis, the writer and director of the film, is famous (and funny!) in his own right. Unfortunately, the film never takes off. There are laughs but they are scattered few and far between, and many are driven by scatological humor, so one feels cheapened afterward.
Michael Cera and Jack Black star respectively as Oh and Zed, a pair of hunter-gatherers who, after being forced to leave their village, go on an odyssey through the Biblical world. Along the way they encounter Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac and many more. Eventually the two end up in Sodom, legendary city of sin and debauchery.
Perhaps the central problem with Year One is its antiquated subject matter. The film bears striking similarities to Mel Brook's History of the World: Part I and especially to Monty Python's Life of Brian. While both are classic examples of 20th Century comedy, times have changed. Part of what made these two films work was they were released in the wake of the golden age of Hollywood sword and sandal flicks (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, etc.) They were intended to poke fun at a once familiar genre; a genre that has now has all but entered oblivion.
Year One might have had a nostalgic sort of appeal to the baby boomer crowd if it had cast different actors in the lead roles and refrained from excessive gross out humor. Black and Cera are both young peoples' comedians whose films normally target a university age demographic. Their dynamic within the film is adequately entertaining but familiar and one-dimensional -- it certainly isn't going to make any converts from the older generation. The film also has an excess of jokes related to farts, feces, urine and other bodily functions. I suppose these were included to bring in adolescent males?
It seems like the film wants to have something for everyone but, as a result, has nothing for anyone. A few nice comedy sketches could be pieced together from all the good material included in its approximately one hour and forty minute run time. Sadly, there is far too little quality material to make a feature length film. Also, even normally reliable performers such as David Cross and Oliver Platt seem off their game. In the end, the project seems lackluster and ill conceived, from the writing, to the acting, to the directing. Perhaps they should have let this idea stay in another time--where it belongs.