Monday, June 29, 2009

Year One (2009)

Year One is an uneven episodic comedy, goofily charming at times, cringe-worthy at others. It stars Jack Black and Michael Cera as pre-historic guys who get thrown out of their small tribe (for eating forbidden fruit, no less) and, in their subsequent wanderings, interact with various Old Testament figures. There’s Paul Rudd and David Cross as Cain and Able, Hank Azaria as Abraham (about to sacrifice his son, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays him as a sort of Biblical-times McLovin), and (an unfortunate) Oliver Platt as an oily priest of Sodom. There are funny actors here, but they aren’t given much that’s inherently funny. When they succeed, it is through likability and talent. When they fail, they’re given the benefit of the doubt. Surely it wouldn’t be their fault, right?

The movie goes down easily enough. It’s occasionally funny, but it’s never a funny movie; its structure wouldn’t support it. In its construction, in its characterization, in its every line, it’s so ramshackle and misguided. It plays like a mediocre series of recurring sketches on Saturday Night Live (see: MacGruber) strung together (and out) to feature length. It’s clunky and episodic and every five to ten minutes I was wishing it would move on to another moment.

There’s some novelty to the experience. Jack Black and Michael Cera don’t break any new ground for themselves in the acting department but that’s part of the initial fun, at least, to see the boisterous-Black and stuttering-Cera types exhibited by cave-people. The idea wears out its welcome fairly quickly though, leaving two grating performers stumbling through backlot sets amid indifferent extras.

It’s directed by Harold Ramis, and, while this is certainly no Groundhog Day, he seems to be able to find funny moments within the performances in otherwise bland material. There were times when I surprised myself by chuckling, but it was no more surprising than the times that I cringed. It’s a little sad to watch a comedy and have it give such a feeling of indifference that any reaction is surprising. The movie wheezes through its structure, laboriously setting up jokes (or worse yet, running jokes) that are barely humorous and introducing characters and concepts that are only worth a smile at the most. It didn’t stir up hatred within me, and it’s not unpleasant, but I’m sure it’s a movie that would play better if it was on late-night TV when I'm half-asleep.

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