Year One, a prehistoric stoner age comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera is an amusing at best comedy that never quite gels or deliver big laughs. You might chuckle a bit, but that’s all. Don’t get me wrong, Year One isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just not a great one either. I expect more from director Harold Ramis, one of the geniuses behind the funniest movie ever (in my opinion), Ghostbusters. Then again Ramis has always been sort of hit or miss; for every Groundhog’s Day there is a Bedazzled. The main problem with Year One is that it plays as a series of different sketches and never coheres into one definitive film.
Black and Cera play two bumbling cavemen who don’t quite fit in with their tribe. The first portion of the movie takes place at their village with the other tribesman and truth be told, it is a painful experience (for the viewer). In that setting, the modern lingo of both Black and Cera feels very out of place and doesn’t quite work (later on it works better). After about twenty minutes the pair are exiled from the tribe when Black takes a bite of forbidden fruit and are forced to leave the village (thank God). It is here that the movie becomes sort of good. As they travel the new world they begin to meet biblical characters such as Cain and Abel and Abraham among others and this is where Year One begins to shine (albeit dimly). Once Black and Cera begin to interact with characters who aren’t cavemen, Year One starts to come off as an updated version of Mel Brook’s classic History of the World Part 1, just not nearly as funny. Obviously, Year One was meant to be silly and silly it is, but not in a laugh out loud kind of way. Each scene is played for big laughs but most times the jokes fall flat and may leave you with a slight smile, if anything.
Jack Black basically plays Jack Black as a caveman and for the most part it works. He is all wide-eyed optimism as they encounter one ridiculous scenario after another and he dutifully keeps the tone silly an irreverent. There is a certain joy in watching Black ride in a horse drawn cart for the first time and act as if he is on a roller coaster. Black brings high energy (as he always does) to the movie, and pairing him with Michael Cera and his usual, nerdy, passive comedic style probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but lacks some spark. Cera basically plays the same character he perfected on the celebrated, but criminally under-watched Arrested Development; the prissy, sensitive boy/man this time as a caveman. Only in Year One it doesn’t come off as well. I understand that the contradiction of a caveman as a nerdy, nebbish, pushover is supposed to be riotously funny, but in the end, with his long, scraggly hair and loincloth, Cera comes off as a little too wimpy.
There are many cameos from wonderful comedic actors in Year One, but none of them help to elevate the material to its comedic potential. There’s David Cross and Paul Rudd as feuding brothers Cain and Abel! Watch Hank Azaria tear it up as Abraham! Casting such as this should have led to an inspired comedy, but again it is all just slightly amusing. My suspicions are that the actors had more laughs filming this than audiences will have watching. In fact, the funniest part of the movie is the blooper reels playing over the end credits. It should be mentioned that Oliver Platt is actually quite hysterical as the over-sexed, sexually confused high priest of Sodom and when he forces Cera to rub his hairy chest and belly with oil, you will cringe with delight. Bill Hader of SNL also has an inspired cameo as the shaman of the tribe and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he is going to be a big star.
In these days of push the envelope comedies such as Borat, The Hangover and any of Judd Apatow’s films, Year One feels kind of quaint and yes, prehistoric. To sum it up, Year One isn’t a disaster of biblical proportions but it certainly isn’t a comedy miracle either.