The devolution of comedy…
On paper, it must have looked like a hit. Directed by the legendary Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), produced by modern comedy wunderkind Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and starring box office golden boys Jack Black (School of Rock) and Michael Cera (Superbad) – along with a host of familiar genre faces – Year One has enough talent behind it to fuel a blockbuster. Throw in a simple story of the adventures of two primitive hunter-gatherers that seemingly leaves plenty of room for Black and Cera to clown around, and you’ve got the formula for a comedy classic, right?
Oh, so wrong.
Because, despite the sheer weight of people involved both in front of and behind the camera, Year One buckles at the first bad gag and it’s downhill from there. In fact, watching it could make you wonder whether comedy has evolved beyond toilet humour and fake vomit.
The premise is promising, in a ‘scope for laughs’ kind of way. When the accident prone Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) are banished from their village, they embark on a journey of discovery that leads them out into the wider world. Along they way they meet a host of familiar characters, including feuding brothers Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), God-fearing Hebrew Abraham (Hank Azaria) and a sadistic Roman army general (played to predictably wooden effect by Vinnie Jones). The pair finally reach the legendary ‘devil’s playground’ of Soddom, where they take on the might of the King (Xander Berkeley) and kinky High Priest (Oliver Platt) in order to save their enslaved friends.
It’s hard to know what’s more difficult to stomach. Is it watching Jack Black eat some poo and realising that somebody, somewhere thought this was what constituted comedy? Or is it realising that such a multitude of talent – and a great deal of time, money and effort – has been squandered on a film that’s slapdash, lazy and deeply unfunny. It’s not even offensive as, despite the profanity, gross-out jokes and bible bashing, it just feels like watching a group of kids trying to shock their parents with bad words and jokes about excrement. And it’s not just boring, it’s also confusing, throwing biblical and historical references into the same melting pot of crass stupidity; any attempts at religious satire, however lowbrow they were intended to be, fall way, way short of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
It’s clear that all those involved had a great deal of fun making the movie, and working with each other. But it seems that – with the exception of Michael Cera, whose wonderfully self-depricating performance earns Year One its only star – they forgot that they also had a whole audience to entertain.
Stars Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Director Harold Ramis
Screenplay Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg
Distributor Columbia Pictures
Running Time 1hr 37mins
Opens June 26