Year One (2009)

Harold Ramis's Year One is everything one would have wished Land of the Lost to be, that is to say, quite funny. Jack Black and Michael Cera have a unique chemistry which brings to mind such classic duos as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Cheech and Chong, and I'm not exaggerating. They play off each other wonderfully. And unlike in Land of the Lost, where Danny McBride would say something funny, and then Will Ferrell would mostly say something much less funny, Black and Cera each have great lines which build on each other quite hilariously and satisfactorily. Cera's character seems visually inspired by Buster Keaton's caveman in The Three Ages, and he has a Pretty Good Stone Face to pull it off.

Oh, both Year One and Land of the Lost are stupid, Year One as scatological or more in places, but the difference is that it plays. The dumb jokes have timing, true inspired silliness and make you laugh.

Year One is the tale of two misfit cavemen, Zed (Black), a terrible hunter, and Oh (Cera), a gatherer and self-proclaimed "maker," who are driven out of their village after Zed stabs a fellow hunter in the back and then samples the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (which doesn't seem to improve his intelligence, but does provide the catalyst for achieving his "great destiny").

The film takes a lot of historical and theological liberties--funny in places, but not profound--contemporizing cavemen, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Romans in Judea, and Sodom and Gomorrah, chiefly, though, to tell the truth, there's not much evidence outside of a literal reading of the Bible to contradict the film's version, which is kind of funny in itself. But these are all excuses for Black and Cera to wander around goofing on ancient times.

The first people they stumble upon outside the village happen to be Cain (David Cross, very funny) and Abel (Paul Rudd, glimpsed), mid-murder. Cain introduces the cavemen to the wheel, with a slow-moving ox-cart. They are amazed and delighted, as if discovering their first roller-coaster, and promptly also their first motion sickness. Ah, it probably sounds like a lame gag to write it down, but so do most of the film's jokes. If you're in the right mood, i.e., to laugh, it all works.

Zed and Oh meet Adam (Ramis himself) and the apocryphal temptress Lilith, but quickly go on the lam with Cain when his crime is revealed, and are then promptly sold into slavery, where they meet the rest of the members of their old village, who have been captured in a raid and also sold. They resolve to rescue their favorite cavewomen, Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple), who were apparently cast for the actors' remarkably symbolic names. (They don't have a lot to do in the film but be gorgeous.)

A few more digressions interfere before they can get back to this idea. Separated from the rest of their tribe in a scuffle, Zed and Oh wander in the desert and come upon the famous sacrifice of Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin of Superbad) by his father Abraham (Hank Azaria, great as usual), stumbling into performing the angelic role of delivering Isaac from his fate. With Abraham's people, they learn about the wickedness of Sodom (where their girlfriends have been taken) and Gomorrah, which doesn't sound half-bad to them. An impromptu circumcision ritual convinces them it's time to find Sodom and rescue their maidens.

In Sodom, portrayed as Las Vegas of the Plain with a particular tolerance and fondness for its namesake sexual practice--and Lot and his wife and daughters not in evidence--Zed and Oh are made slaves again, then rescued by Cain, who gets them jobs with the town guard. This works out fairly well for Zed at first, but Oh is enslaved again, painted gold, and forced to work as a masseuse for a particularly hairy High Priest (Oliver Platt). Tricked into entering the forbidden Holy of Holies in the temple, Zed and Oh are then condemned to be stoned to death, etc., etc. Plot descriptions must cease here to preserve the ending.

Overall, this is a very good Harold Ramis film, inviting not-too-shabby comparisons with some of the best work of Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby and Monty Python, as well as the aforementioned classic comedy teams. The writing is amusing, the plot contrived and silly, but quite clever underneath that, and Black and Cera deliver the goods, ably supported, particularly, by Cross, Azaria and the incredibly beautiful Olivia Wilde ("House") as Princess Inanna. There are also entertaining cameos from Bill Hader ("Saturday Night Live") as the village shaman, Kyle Gass ("Tenacious D") as the chief eunuch of Sodom, Xander Berkeley as the King and comedian Paul Scheer as a "volunteer" slaveworker with a laid-back attitude. There are some funny outtakes during the credits, but all in one burst, so you don't have to stay to the very end if you don't want to see the MPAA certificate. Yeah, it's kind of a dumb movie with plenty of dumb jokes, but they're done just right and they often work on a couple of different levels. What more do you want, Will Ferrell crapped out by a dinosaur? Not me....I have to say this movie made me smiley-happy, and it's mostly Black and Cera who carry it on their shoulders.

6-19-09


Links for Year One

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

Official Site

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