National Lampoon’s Animal House. Caddyshack. Ghostbusters. Groundhog Day. Over the years, writer and director Harold Ramis has been involved with some of the truly great Hollywood comedies. The question was, with A-listers such as Jack Black and Michael Cera on board, could he reach such heights again with Year One? The answer is a disappointingly emphatic "no".
Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) are village-dwelling hunter-gatherers who are no good at hunting or gathering. With their standing in the community already at a low and unable to get the girls they have their eyes on, Zed decides to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree to see what happens. Nothing much does except that Zed gets caught and told to leave the village which he does, with Oh in tow. From there on, the hapless neanderthals meet various characters, some from the Bible, in a quest to discover the world.
The main problem with Year One isn’t that there isn’t much of a plot, although that doesn’t exactly help. Nor is it that it makes no sense – indeed, in the right hands (Monty Python, for example) the historical inaccuracies and juxtaposition of ancient scriptures and modern sensibilities might have worked a treat. Nor are the players at fault. Jack Black does his Jack Black thing and Michael Cera is his usual sweet, geeky self. No, the overwhelming and all-consuming problem is that Year One is teeth-grindingly, bottom-clenchingly unfunny.
Ramis is quoted as saying that he wanted to find writers to work with who could really push him, although with Stupnitsky and Eisenberg involved you have to wonder in which direction he wanted to be pushed. Rarely can a pair of lead actors have spoken so many words and actually said so little that either drives the plot forward or creates a laugh. It’s almost as if Ramis has said, “Don’t worry about actually writing anything, let’s just improvise and we won’t bother editing, it’ll be fine, we’re funny guys.” Well, funny they might be, but it hasn’t resulted in a decent film script, not by a long chalk.
This will almost certainly be a big seller – partly because of the big names involved and partly because 12-year-old boys will always find eating poo, weeing on yourself and rubbing oil into the hairy chest of a hugely camp homosexual high priest (Oliver Platt, what were you thinking?) hilariously funny and disgusting all at the same time. But if this is all Ramis has left in his creative tank it’s a sad day indeed because anyone looking for genuine wit, humour and originality should look elsewhere.
EXTRAS | Reviewed by Stuart O'Connor *** There are two version of this desperately unfunny film on offer here – theatrical and uncut. Having watched the uncut version (but having not seen the theatrical version), I can only assume that the addition of the odd fuck here and cunt there is what gives this its "uncut" status, because they certainly don't seem to have added any actual jokes. So the film itself rates a big, fat zero stars from me. But the extras are fairly decent, which explains the 3-star rating. First up, there's an audio commentary with Ramis, Black and Cera. Then there's an 8-minute long, special effects-laden alternate ending (the destruction of Sodom) with an optional commentary by Ramis, Black and Cera, 2 deleted scenes, 10 extended/alternate scenes, a gag reel (ah, so THAT'S where they hid all the jokes), an 18-minute making-of featurette (Year One: The Journey Begins), a fake infomercial for the town of Sodom (Sodom's Got 'Em), a bunch of trailers, and a featurette called Line-O-Rama, which is a collection of Black, Platt and Cera doing various improvisations of some of their lines. There are also some nice Blu-ray features, such as the Year One Cutting Room, which allows viewers to create videos from movie clips and share them via BD-Live; and CineChat, which allows viewers to send instant messages to friends while watching the film; a MovieIQ trivia track with in-movie information about the cast, crew, music and production via BD-Live. A good package, but none of it really makes up for the awfulness of the film itself. If you really need to watch this, then save your money and rent it.