Movie Review: Year One by uncdiversions
June 22, 2009, 8:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As a director, Harold Ramis has a long history of taking hokey, outlandish ideas and mining them for comedy gold. Ably guiding dynamite casts through tightly organized farce, he turned “Caddyshack” and “National Lampoons Vacation” into classics. These movies are so gut-bustingly funny that you hardly notice that they are just a series of jokes held together by the barely adhesive scotch tape of their transparent plots.

But those transparent plots are painfully obvious in Ramis’ equally large supply of failures. The awful “Bedazzled” and the abysmally lackluster “Analyze That” are serious black marks on his resume, proof that when you tip toe the line between corny and classic, you’re likely to fall as many times as you soar.

It is in the light of this history that we now look at “Year One.” Ramis’ latest is a period piece (for lack of a better term) that apes Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part 1” by taking the audience on a gag-filled, history-smashing romp through the ancient world.

And what’s surprising about this one is that rather than falling into one of Ramis’ two usual extremes, this movie is merely mediocre.

Once again the director is blessed with an outstanding comedy cast. Jack Black and Michael Cera are hilarious as the main tandem of hunter gathers banished from their village. While the two struggle to rescue their lady loves who have been sold into slavery, Black gets the chance to rev up his portly rock ‘n’ roll machismo as Cera tickles funny bones with his trademark insecurity.

And the film isn’t wanting for a supporting cast either. Hank Azaria is exactly the right kind of politically incorrect as a circumcision-obsessed Abraham, and Oliver Platt is the kind of creepy you just can’t stop watching as an androgynous high priest who loves Cera’s hot oil baths.

And though “Year One” should have turned into a fast and hard-hitting road trip, Ramis spares the cutting knife too many times, allowing gags to run on long after they’ve lost their punch. “Caddyshack” and “Vacation” were so great because they timed their recurring jokes perfectly, dropping them only to bring them back when you’d almost forgotten. But in “Year One,” this is not the case.

What could have been a seriously funny scene in which Cera and Black witness the murder of Abel by Cain is ruined by the fact that they keep following an unamusing Cain long after the joke has exhausted its laughs. It’s a vehicle meant to keep the plot moving, but it ends up just making the audience yawn, forcing it to concentrate on the film’s boring story instead of its charismatic actors.

With a story that buries its jokes and a director who can’t fit together all the myriad plot lines at work, “Year One” ends up drug along by its cast. And it’s a credit to them that this movie didn’t end up as absolute garbage.

So while Ramis proves in “Year One” that he is still capable of pushing a cast to hilarious heights, he is unable to bind those highs together. Because of this he falls well short of his endlessly re-watchable classics, ending up with a laugh that’s only good once. And it’s not even that good of one.

– By Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence


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