Monday, October 26, 2009

Held back a year

From the paleolithic section of the L.A. Library's DVD shelf.

Year One (2009)

When I saw the names Harold Ramis and Judd Apatow, along with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (two writers from The Office) attached to this movie, I thought they would give us something very funny. All this movie made me want to do is turn it off and watch Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part One, a far better and funnier film.

First off we have Jack Black and Michael Cera, two people who are more like caricatures than actors (see Chevy Chase and David Spade for two more caricature-actors). I liked Black’s bad boy man-boy in School of Rock and Kung Fu Panda but his antics grated on me in other films. I enjoyed Cera in Juno and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, but his sensitive boy-man persona did nothing for me in Year One. In paper and in theory the two could work well together. In practice and in this movie they really don’t.

The two are very inept hunter-gatherers from a tribe of Stone Age people. They’re kicked out, well because they’re Jack Black and Michael Cera, and they encounter the Bible (wtf?) for some reason. They meet Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd) and their father Adam. Later they encounter Abraham (Hank Azaria) as he’s about to kill his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, forever to be known as McLovin). From there they go onto what looks like early Roman times (I guess the Greeks never existed in this universe) and deal with a generic King (he has no name, played by Xander Berkeley), slavery, a hot princess (Olivia Wilde) and a very lascivious High Priest (Oliver Platt in a performance nearly worthy of an Oscar nod).

It has to be said the funniest performer in the film is Oliver Platt. His High Priest - all made up with eyeliner, decked out in jewels and shiny robes and wearing a giant miter that makes him nearly eight feet tall - is hysterical. He spots the waifish Cera at an orgy and orders him to not only pour oil on him but to massage it into his chest, which is so hairy it would give Sean Connery a complex. All the while he’s riffing to Cera in the best tradition of Judd Apatow productions.

The next funniest character is Hank Azaria’s Abraham. Azaria as you should know is one of the masterful voice-over artists on The Simpson’s, and he was instructed by director Ramis to do an impression of George C. Scott who played Abraham in John Huston’s 1966 movie The Bible. Azaria tones him down just a bit so it’s not Patton, but he’s fabulous. This Abraham is very obsessed with circumcision, “it will be a very sleek look,” he says to the skeptical Cera and Black. Azaria gets to improvise one of the funniest lines in the whole movie. Here it comes, so skip this if you don’t want to know: He tells Cera and Black he’s going to get his good knife to snip their foreskins, and afterward, very casually says, “then we’ll have some wine and sponge cake.”

The rest of the movie is very dull, with lots of obvious jokes as when Cera takes Black's advice and tries to club a girl on the head. The doe-like Cera just taps her hard enough to get an "Ow" then she grabs the club and whacks him back harder. Fun-nee. I expected a lot more from someone of Harold Ramis' stature and previous movies. He directed Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation and Groundhog Day. He co-wrote Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Back to School. This man has literally made comedic movie history. Year One isn't even as funny as the worst jokes in any of those previous movies. As I said at the beginning, it just made me want to watch History of the World: Part One for a movie with a similar setting and premise. Hell, even Ringo Starr’s Caveman was a funnier movie.
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1 comment:

  1. I think "Caveman comedies are not funny" should be one of Roger Ebert's movie rules. There are some very funny caveman movies they just aren't intentionally funny (one thinks of "I Was A Teenage Caveman" with Robert Vaughan for instance).

    Love Hank Azaria. I wonder if his "wine and spongecake" line was a concious homage to a similar line uttered by the immortally funny Kenneth Mars in "Young Frankenstein"?