Right after “rain of frogs” and “swarm of locusts” on the list of biblical plagues, add “Year One,” a crassly juvenile spoof of the Old Testament that’s sure to be a pox on its creators and its audiences alike. Theater owners are advised to smear some lamb’s blood on their doors until this blight passes.
Jack Black and Michael Cera star as Zed and Oh, two cavemen who are banished from their tribe for their lack of skills as, respectively, a hunter and a gatherer. And because Zed ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which was forbidden, and also apparently failed to make him any smarter.
Their journey takes them to the land of Adam (director Harold Ramis), where they witness Cain (David Cross) slay his brother Abel (Paul Rudd). Later, Zed and Oh stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) before making their way to Sodom, where they hope to rescue two women from their tribe who have been sold into slavery.
The structure of “Year One” is painfully minimal, existing only to tack on jokes that seem to have been made up on the spot — and if you’ve ever endured an evening of improv comedy, you know that formula winds up delivering lots of misses for every rare hit. Ramis and co-writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg mostly avoid the easy anachronism jokes, to their credit, but instead they wind up plumbing the depths of poop, fart, urine, foreskin and gay-panic humor.
Since Zed is a loudmouth braggart and venal coward, while Oh is a mealy-mouthed doormat, one assumes that Ramis was shooting for some sort of Hope & Crosby/Abbott & Costello—type interplay, but instead we wind up with Black and Cera playing pretty much the exact same characters they portray in practically every movie they make. Of the supporting players, only Cross as a conniving Cain (after getting struck by lightning, he asks, “Did that leave a mark?”) and Oliver Platt as a hirsute high priest with a weakness for body oil make much of an impression.
If the gags were amusing enough, nothing else would matter, but with long stretches of not-funny going on, it’s easy to start noticing how the plot never really seems to build to much, ending in a climax that has we-gotta-end-this-thing-somehow written all over it. One also notices the muddy and unattractive cinematography of Alar Kivilo (“The Lake House”), which punishes the eye.
How could Ramis, one of the geniuses behind the landmark TV sketch show “SCTV” and the director of such modern classics as “Groundhog Day,” “Caddyshack” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” go on to churn out something as tacky and airless as “Year One”? He should have considered sacrificing the negative as a burnt offering rather than inflict this movie upon unsuspecting audiences.
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