You know how it is. You see a trailer for a movie and it looks quite funny, but you know that very often a trailer is better than the movie so it must just be a good sales job. Then again, maybe this time the movie will actually live up to the hype and be worth watching. Such thoughts were going through my mind as I settled down to view 'Year One' - billed as the first ever road movie.
Whenever I set out to watch a movie starring Jack Black, I think that maybe this time he'll be likeable and funny. I don't really have anything against the guy - I want him to be funny. It just hasn't happened yet. Maybe at the back of my mind I haven't forgiven him for what he did to 'King Kong'.
So anyway, we're back in Caveman times with Jack Black in animal skins playing Zed, a Hunter for his village. Unfortunately he's not a very good one as we see when he accidentally spears one of his own hunting party, telling him not to block his shot next time. Along with his wimpy pal Oh (Michael Cera) who looks like a girl and is a Gatherer - you guessed it, not a very good Gatherer as he seems to eat more than he gathers - they make a fine pair. We've all seen them, the disaffected duo who sit in the corner and whinge about everyone else.
It's situation normal until Zed decides to throw caution to the wind and take a bite of the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge, only to discover that it doesn't make him smarter, but it does get him kicked out of the village and on the way out he accidentally sets fire to a thatched hut.
So along with his shadow Oh, Zed begins his trek through a series of encounters with Biblical characters like Cain and Abel as well as Abraham and visits the city of Sodom.
Now, put this outline in the hands of the Monty Python team and you have the basis for some proper religious upset and total mischief. Put it in the hands of the Carry On team (of old) and you could have some memorable one liners (“Sodom? - I should jolly well think so!” as Charles Hawtrey minces off left of frame). Mel Brooks could have made the circumcision stuff seem funny. So imagine you've got a script produced by the aforementioned luminaries, now strip out the wit, the humour and the one liners. That's it! You're left with 'Year One'.
Actually they did leave in one, no let's be generous, maybe two funny gags. I do recall half smiling a couple of times.
They say that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive - and boy, did I travel in hope - but for me the comedy just didn't arrive.
My spirits gradually sank as the movie went on. Thankfully, it's only 100 minutes long (uncut version) or I might have died of depression.
We do seem to be in the grip of a wave of 'comedies' that purport to take the mick out of a range of subjects but that simply don't deliver the goods. I'm thinking of 'Meet the Spartans', 'Disaster Movie' and the like. They start with a good premise but the fun goes out the window pretty rapidly when they start to fall back on 'gross out' humour (as our colonial cousins would call it) in an attempt to raise a laugh. I call it three 'p' humour (penis, pee and poo gags). Your brain tells you there and then that, yup, this is just like the last one. Pass me those razor blades.
You do wonder how they got a 'green light' to go ahead based on the script for this turkey.
I'm reminded of a scene in 'My Favourite Year' when King Kaiser, the star of a comedy show, says to a writer, “What's that smell? Oh my God, it's coming from your script”.
Someone should have had the guts to tell them.
'Year One' was directed by Harold Ramis (unbelievable, isn't it?) whose career includes 'Ghostbusters', 'Groundhog Day', 'Analyse This' and his directorial debut 'Caddyshack'. The real blame, however, should go to screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, from the American version of TV's "The Office" (on which Ramis also worked), and of course, producer Judd Apatow.
Jack Black is surrounded in 'Year One' by many other able comedians. Michael Cera has a similar, rambling type of comic delivery, but gentler and quieter, and he's not a bad straight man for Black. Harold Ramis appears as Cain and Abel's father Adam, and Hank Azaria is Abraham, who is obsessed with circumcising every male within earshot. Oliver Platt is faintly amusing as the lusty, effeminate high priest, and David Cross makes an appealing maniacal Cain. That great British export Vinnie Jones with his psychotic, football hooligan stare, plays a violent guard. Type cast again!
You'd think that with all of the above talent involved, the end result would have been better. This is clumsy, lazy scriptwriting and film making. If you really want to enjoy it, sink a few pints of amber nectar first.
Unfortunately, I was stone cold sober.
I'd like to end on a positive note. Believe me, I really, really would.
Oh, there are some out-takes over the end titles. Phew!
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