By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
While indeed true that Lerner and Loewe didn’t write a hit every time, it is still difficult to grasp that director Harold Ramis (“Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day”) thought the unforgivably dreary “Year One” was funny. It’s like learning that Albert Einstein secretly wished he had conceived of Nutty Putty instead of just E=MC2.
The misfire isn’t merely humorless. It is ‘Please be over already,’ bone-achingly, mind-numbingly boring. You wonder what’s worse: your most wearying grammar school teacher droning on in pre-air conditioned June, being dragged by your mother from one department store to the next on a Saturday afternoon or “Year One?”
Almost as confounding, there’s nothing terribly egregious about the script Mr. Ramis penned with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. It just doesn’t work. And other than it crossing your mind that it’s all a big practical joke, one assumes it looked witty on paper. Or maybe it was just getting late and they said, “Oh, all right already. It’s good enough.”
Adding further quandary to the theories of failure the film inherently engenders is the curiously flat portrayal contributed by Jack Black as Zed, a slacker caveman with a quippish rationalization for everything. As a rule the go-to funny man, in this instance he jadedly phones in his Peck’s Bad Boy thing without benefit of the usual trademark zeal.
Essentially a road movie without a comedic compass, in rare instance when “Year One” does glint a shard of inspiration it seems a modern attempt of the Hope-Crosby jaunts. Problem is, the journey that begins in prehistoric times and inexplicably lands among Biblical folk hasn’t the least anchor or plot animus to counterpoise its flights of fancy.
That is, Mr. Ramis’s journey into the world of past tense conjecture and satire never establishes its own nature. Rather, it seems a derivative giambotte of several seen-it-before styles. We can envision Mel Brooks getting laughs, about twenty years ago, when a tribal leader explains circumcision to Zed and his sidekick Oh (Michael Cera).
Yet no one comes to the rescue. Apparently afflicted with whatever miasma has skewed Mr. Black’s portrayal, the supporting cast barely manages to attain even a lacklustre level of performance. Well, at least they’re not overshadowed by the scenery or music, both of which evince absolutely no element of artistic merit. Alas, the film does not jam or rip.
Though, when you consider that some movie theaters distribute free passes to filmgoers inconvenienced by an interruptive tear in the film, the absence of such technical difficulty may be a mixed blessing. Complimentary ducats for another movie might at least serve as partial reparation for the pain and suffering “Year One” wreaks.
Just trying to describe the storyline deserves compensation. With no central running gag to lend identity, it’s but a series of barely connected vignettes. Banished by fellow cavemen for his indolent ways (he is neither hunter nor gatherer), Zed takes to the trail in hope of an even lazier lot, and maybe women, too. His straight man pal, Oh, is in tow.
Thereupon the refugees from an unfunny “Alley Oop” cartoon strip walk into an equally dull “B.C.” panel, just in time to witness Cain’s smiting of Abel. Promising they won’t breathe a word of what they’ve seen, they are invited to his home. Adam’s domicile then somehow becomes the setting for a variation on the one about the farmer’s daughter.
Soon, Zed and Oh’s fates are inextricably tied to Cain’s, who sells them into slavery first chance he gets. Only good thing here (for them, not us) is that in bondage they meet up with Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple), their unrequited loves from back home. Oh asks Eema what time she gets off. “Never. I’m a slave,” she says.
That’s one of approximately four jokes that work. Otherwise the interminably random attempts to hang assorted shtick on the unimaginative mixing of eras fail at practically every turn. The repetitious formula plods on and on, and it soon becomes evident that the only hope for us befuddled masses is the beckoning, sympathetic glow of the exit sign.
Drat, the trailers seemed so promising. But grand expectations dashed make for more tedium than plain, unsolicited monotony. While this clunker may prove helpful to those writing a thesis on what effect boring movies have on us, viewers without such academic curiosity should allow “Year One” to uneventfully recede into the forgotten past.
“Year One,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Harold Ramis and stars Jack Black, Michael Cera and Juno Temple. Running time: 97 minutes
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