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Year One
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Wholly Crap"
1 stars

There may not be many things that people are willing to agree upon when it comes to humor but I am willing to bet that few would argue against the notion that Harold Ramis was one of the most important, if occasionally underrated, voices in the world of big-screen comedy in the second half of the 20th century. As a writer and/or director, he worked on such beloved favorites as “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day,” the latter being a film that has pretty much grown to be a legitimate movie classic since it debuted in 1993. He also dabbled in a string of films that, while perhaps not as significant as those listed above, made a lot of money and entertained a lot of people, such as “Meatballs,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Back to School” and “Analyze This.” He even has a couple of films, such as “Multiplicity,” “The Ice Harvest” and the incredibly underrated “Stuart Saves His Family,” that inexplicably didn’t connect with audiences when they were released but which lay in wait to be rediscovered. This is an incredible output for any one person--most filmmakers could build an entire career upon just one of those films--and the resulting goodwill that he has developed over the years has grown so immense as a result that when he has made the occasional artistic misstep (as with the likes of “Club Paradise” or the unnecessary sequels to “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Analyze This”), those missteps have largely been forgiven and forgotten in the light of his earlier achievements.

Because of this pedigree, I went into his latest film, the Biblical-themed comedy “Year One,” with something resembling genuine enthusiasm. Sure, the trailer wasn’t especially inspiring--it didn’t contain a single laugh as far as I recall and the vibe it gave off was less that of a modern-day “Life of Brian” and more like a modern-day “Wholly Moses”--but I was hoping this was a case in which the edgy (and thereby potentially offensive) humor was being kept out of the trailers in favor for the broader jokes that would more likely appeal to the masses. Hell, I was even willing to give it the benefit of the doubt during its slow, uneventful and unfunny opening reel on the assumption that once the premise was established, the clever and outrageous humor that one might expect from someone of Ramis’ stature would finally begin to fly. However, by the time that the film is reduced to having people eating pieces of poop--willingly eating pieces of poop, mind you--in a desperate bid for laughs, it finally dawned on me that “Year One” was not just going to be a disappointment by Ramis’ usually high standards but a debacle of, appropriately enough, Biblical proportions. This is an awful, coarse, stupid and nearly laughless disaster that does for comedy what Cain and Abel did for the history of fraternal relationships. It is so bad, in fact, that not only do I feel as though I have sullied the fine reputation of “Life of Brian” by mentioning it in the same paragraph, I fear I may have also sullied the reputation of “Wholly Moses” as well.

The film stars Jack Black and Michael Cera as Zed and Oh, a pair of inept hunter-gatherers who are the laughingstocks of their tribe. Frustrated by the lack of respect that he receives from his fellow tribesmen (which is to be expected when he hits more of them with his spears than the prey they are stalking), the ambitious Zed decides to partake of the forbidden fruit that is said to instill those who eat it with all the knowledge of the world. Alas, this move only gets him banished for good and he and Oh venture off to see if there is indeed anything out there beyond the reach of their village. Along the way, they run into a few familiar characters from the Bible--they become involved in a fateful conflict between Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd) and prevent Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his own son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), though they aren’t able to prevent him from doing much the same thing to his foreskin--and eventually (and perhaps inevitably) wind up in Sodom. There, Zed catches the eye of the lovely Princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde), who clearly sees the inequities committed against the populace by her stepfather, the corrupt, virgin-sacrificing king (Xander Berkley), Oh catches the eye of the king’s slightly less lovely high priest (Oliver Platt), whose turn-ons include long oil rubs on his incredibly hairy stomach and the two attempt to rescue some of their former tribesmen (okay, tribeswomen) from fates worth than death in a process that begins with them being sentenced to death by stoning and ends with Zed somehow being mistaken for The Chosen One.

For the most part, “Year One” is essentially a collection of Biblically-themed comedy sketches strung together into a single narrative. This in of itself is not necessarily a bad idea for a movie--after all, that is pretty much the same structure utilized in “Life of Brian” and that turned out to be one of the funniest movies ever made, Of course, that film had the advantage of having a smart, inspired and funny screenplay written by people who were working at the peak of their creative powers and who weren’t afraid to take certain risks in order to achieve their comedic goals. “Year One,” on the other hand, feels more like an improv group having one of those off-nights in which nothing really works and the desperate attempts by the actors to pump life into the material only serves to underscore just how lame it truly is. One of the key problems with the film is that I never for an instant could understand what Ramis and his co-writers were going for. If it is trying to spoof the famous stories of the Bible, it gives up on that idea at around the halfway point and most of the jokes in that regard are pretty toothless (Abraham trying to convince Zed and Oh that no, he wasn’t really trying to kill his son). If it is trying to spoof old Biblical movies, it doesn’t have a sliver of the brilliance of the “Ben-Hur” parody that Ramis participated in on “SCTV” years ago and it has been put together in such a chintzy manner (between the relentless hideous close-ups and the amount of material that appears to be missing--characters disappear and reappear with incomprehensible abandon--this might be the ugliest-looking studio film to come along in a while) that it makes even the cut-rate ones look fairly spectacular by comparison. If it is trying to illustrate how some things never change--that people throughout the ages have allowed themselves to be manipulated by those out to exploit their faith for their own end and that blind devotion to anything is a bad idea--by looking at Biblical incidents through a contemporary filter, that aspect is barely explored with the exception of one Obama reference that isn’t nearly as pointed or funny as it should have been. In the entire movie, there is only one extended sequence that actually works and that is the portion involving Cain & Abel and Abel’s subsequent attempts to convince his family that his brother is fine and certainly not murdered or anything--this sequence works because, unlike virtually everything else in the film, it is based on a solid comedic premise that actually yields some solid laughs. (Perhaps realizing that this was going to be the only highlight, this is the scene in which Ramis himself makes an appearance as, of all people, Adam.)

Okay, so those are some of the things that you won’t find on display in “Year One”--let us talk about what you will see instead. There is the aforementioned joke involving the poop sampling--a bit that I object to not because of its scatological nature (indeed, Ramis pulled off similar jokes in far funnier fashion in the likes of “Caddyshack” and “Vacation”) but because there is nothing to the joke that is intrinsically funny unless you are tickled by the idea of Jack Black knowingly and willingly chomping down on a piece of crap. There is a scene in which an upside-down Cera winds up peeing all over his face, a bit that seems to go one forever without inspiring even a smile. There are a couple on incest jokes, numerous gay jokes, lame pop-culture references (we are informed that whatever happens within the walls of Sodom stays within the walls of Sodom) and a brief blackface bit featuring Bill Hader that fails so spectacularly that Hader himself is seen questioning its wisdom during the end-credit outtakes. There is an orgy sequence that I suspect was once designed to serve as the film’s comedic centerpiece but which instead goes on for an exasperatingly long time without ever being especially funny or, thanks to the PG-13 rating, especially sexy. (Hell, the film can’t even come up with a single inventive or amusing Sodom joke, a task that I am certain that you and I could pull off over the course of a quick lunch.)

Most painfully, there is the sight of Jack Black and Michael Cera as one of the most gruesomely mismatched comedy teams to ever wander before the cameras. The idea of matching Black’s bluster with Cera’s reticence may have sounded like a good idea in theory but in practice, the results are deadly. Black is an immense talent but one who is always more effective when he has a role that knows how to use his natural exuberance, as was the case in “High Fidelity” and “School of Rock.” That isn’t the case here and as a result, he just stomps through one scene after another doing the same kind of half-assed shtick that used to drag the films of Robin Williams to a dead halt. Cera, on the other hand, essentially turns in the exact same performance that he has in practically everything else he has done and while it has worked well in the past in such things as “Arrested Development,” “Superbad” and “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” he just look uncomfortable and embarrassed by the material that he has been given to deliver.

Besides the aforementioned bit involving Cain & Abel, there are a couple of laughs to be found here and there throughout “Year One” but they are so few and far between that they only serve to highlight just how completely the rest of the film has failed in that regard. This is an utter disaster from top to bottom that will surely go down as a career low for virtually everyone involved with it and while Harold Ramis may survive this debacle, it is sad to discover that he has finally come up with a film that does not improve in the memory when compared with the likes of “Caddyshack 2.” The day after I saw the film, I was doing my weekly radio gig and the conservative-leaning host asked if it was an anti-religion movie and I said that it wasn’t on the basis that it was too confused and incoherent to understand what a belief system was in the first place, let alone criticize it in any way. Now if he had asked me if it was an anti-comedy movie. . .

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18123&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/19/09 18:18:10
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User Comments

6/10/17 Homo habilis I'd rather be clubbed to death by a Homo sapiens than let this movie club my brain cells 1 stars
3/22/16 David H. One of the most repellently awful movies ever. 1 stars
10/18/11 Magic The only goal of a comedy is to make the audience laugh. I did not laugh once. 1 stars
1/08/11 Stuart Typical Hollywood, always making fun of the Christian faith. 1 stars
11/22/09 L.J funny, not as good as some comedy movies but still i think this movie is awesome 5 stars
9/25/09 Akemi Gardiner Great cast, but horrible movie. 2 stars
8/30/09 Samantha Pruitt stupid funny. but funny none the less, micheal cera can't play anything else but himself. 3 stars
8/14/09 The Velcro Warlock Starts promisingly, but gets muddled by ending. 3 stars
7/23/09 alice Aside from a few funny one liners, this movie is really boring... and incredibly stupid. 1 stars
7/21/09 Gummby3 You know what you're getting considering they show most of the movie in the trailer. 2 stars
7/15/09 Stephanie Grant Has to be the worst move of the year by far! It sucks! 1 stars
6/23/09 Maven This movie is guaranteed to make you angry enough to ask for your money back, it's that bad 1 stars
6/23/09 Kailee Halarious, very funny movie and great actors 5 stars
6/20/09 Jeff Anderson Ramis' worst! How can such funny people appear in such a dull abomination, I'LL NEVER KNOW! 1 stars
6/19/09 Justin Laugh Riot! I smell Oscar Noms! 5 stars
6/19/09 Ming Stupidest movie of the year...Jokes are disgusting and not funny at all. 1 stars
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  19-Jun-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Oct-2009


  DVD: 06-Oct-2009

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