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 questions 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 huge hit at the box office, 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.