The trailer for the new movie from director Harold Ramis, Year One, kind of confused me. How were two cavemen types (Michael Cera and Jack Black) bumping into Romans? What? Well, it turns out nothing regarding an accurate historic timeline in this movie makes sense, but that's OK. It's the least of its problems.
If I had to describe this comedy in one sentence I would say it's as if a Mel Brooks comedy and a so-so Saturday Night Live sketch had a baby. It's a gross-out buddy comedy set in the Old Testament that generates a few good laughs. As a comedy duo, Black and Cera are surprisingly good together — although each relies heavily on his respective well-worn shtick. I'm also genuinely surprised at how much mileage the script is able to get out of riffing on what is essentially one big joke about ancient humans and the Bible.
So that's the good news. There is some bad news, though, which you can learn about if you read more.
Black and Cera play two men from a tribe that is apparently separated from the rest of civilization. They are both really bad at the things humans in their tribe need to master (hunting and gathering) and they get themselves banished. Before long they're rubbing elbows with Biblical celebrities like Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd) and they find themselves in and out of slavery. In the end, they're mostly concerned with boobs and hitting on ladies.
This movie is packed full of gross-out humor, and I use the word "humor" lightly. There are fart, poop, pee, sex, and armpit hair jokes galore. And they are rarely funny. OK, fine. The scene where Cera pees on his own face is a little funny but the rest of it is just really . . . tiresome, not to mention disgusting. It just never ends. There's another scene with Cera in which his character is forced to sleep in a bed with a country boy who farts a lot. It's about five full minutes of screen time devoted to farting. I laughed a little at the beginning but there comes a point when one just wants the farting to end.
The saving grace here is the supporting cast. Cera's mumbly shtick only goes so far, as does Black's exuberance. It's a blessing when someone like Hank Azaria shows up on screen to give the audience a little break from those two. Azaria plays Abraham, a man obsessed with circumcision. There is a decent amount of brain power and wit behind Azaria's performance that elevates what is basically a silly fourth grader joke about male genitalia to a slightly higher level. This movie could have used more of that.
Mostly, though, there isn't anything particularly new or inventive about the gags in this movie. The broad humor feels borrowed from other, funnier movies like History of the World, Part I. It's not that Year One is terrible; it's just that you've seen it all before and you've probably seen it done better. And you know, I bet in year one, early humans gathered around to watch someone fart and then they laughed hysterically. Maybe that even counted as an entire standup routine. But this is 2009. A little wit with that fart would be nice.
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures