Director: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) | Writers: Harold Ramis and Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (“The Office” [American version–TV])
Some films just don’t feel like anyone tried. That effect can be born by design; in certain dramas or horror films a laid-back approach can pay off with disarming or unsettling conclusions that result from specific audience expectations. But then there are movies like “Year One,” in which the lackadaisical performances from the actors and the crew indicate either a deep loathing for the material or fervent drug use during production. The subsequent mess, a lazy “History of the World, Part 1”-esque take on Old Testament stories, has scant moments of dialogue-based levity, but delivered with such underwhelming indifference by its talent that it’s a wonder a single laugh escapes the comedic black hole onscreen.
With such comic stars as Jack Black, Michael Cera, and hallowed director Harold Ramis onboard, “Year One” should have been a sharp, acerbic satire fraught with the kind of absurdist humor that comes with historic figures speaking in the parlance of our times. Instead, the audience is showered with filmic offal in the form of a trite story of two semi-lovable losers (Black and Cera) forced from their hunter-gatherer community and into a half-hearted attempt to rescue the girls of their dreams, played by two dull nobodies, from being sacrificed to the gods by ancient Sodomites (citizens of the city of Sodom, specifically). Along the way they run into Cain (David Cross) and Abel, Abraham (Hank Azaria) and Isaac, and a handful of other anachronistic and unfunny characters.
Aside from a handful of decent lines given to Cross and Azaria, the script falls flat in no small part due to sadly typical portrayals by Black and Cera, who play a “Jack Black”-type and a “Michael Cera”-type, respectively. But even their decided ambivalence is surpassed by that of Ramis, whose camera seems to be nodding off in the more mundane moments, and then hurrying to catch up with the leads as they trudge off toward their next horrifyingly humorless misadventure. Ramis the director might deserve a pass, but Ramis the writer should know better. I wasn’t expecting something as good as Ramis’ own screenplay for “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” but I had hoped at least that “Year One” might have been as funny as, say, “Lord of the Flies.” That’ll teach me to dream.
Rating: One of Five Stars