I’ll say this about Year One, I’d rather watch it than get cancer. That’s one of the few positive things I can say about this movie.
Let me preface what is about to be my most scathing review to date by saying this: I’m pretty forgiving, movie-wise. If a film has some glaring issues, but I’m still entertained, I’ll give it a good review. I’ll point out the flaws, sure, but explain why they’re forgivable when taking in the whole picture. I really try to find positives in movies, which is why I’m surprised whenever I really don’t like one. And I really didn’t like Year One. I’m going to break a lot of rules with this review, namely “don’t plot summarize.” But let me explain why. I’m going to do it so I can go through each plot point piece by piece and tell you exactly why I hated it. Also I hope to leave you certain that you don’t want to see this movie. Believe me, I know what it’s like to read negative reviews and think that you might still like it. I did it with this very film. Don’t do it. If you want to be entertained for nine bucks, get 900 pennies and throw them at small children. Guaranteed to be more fun than Year One.
The movie starts out introducing Zed (Jack Black), who is an idiot, fat ‘hunter’ in a small tribe of primitive people. His best, and only friend Oh (Michael Cera) is a ‘gatherer,’ a much more effeminate job, which consists of picking berries “that have the least amount of bird shit on them.” The fact that they took the term ‘hunter-gatherer’ and applied them to the two only jobs in this tribe is, in fact, one of the wittier high points of the movie. It degrades quickly from here, with the bar already set pretty low.
Zed and Oh are both attracted to two different girls in the tribe who want nothing to do with them, and want to be with the ‘stud’ hunters. Get it? It’s like high-school. The whole movie plays with anachronism, putting modern social norms in a biblical setting, or having the two leads play themselves, but as cavemen. Oh is in love with Eema (Juno Temple), who is Zed’s younger sister. This fact plays absolutely no part in the movie, as Zed never shows anything resembling familial ties to her, other than to set up a joke, if we can call it that, that reveals Zed had sex with his mother. He makes the joke, it’s not funny, and then he persists with it, and it never gets funny, until you’re left wondering if there were people behind the camera drowning themselves in absinthe to numb the pain. And suddenly you wish there were a bar in this damn theater, because you just spent nine dollars a ticket and ten dollars on snacks only to have your entire outlook on life embittered.
Such is the plague of this movie. Unfunny jokes that last too long. In fact, at 100 minutes, the movie itself runs to long. I’d have cut it off at about five.
Zed, in order to get some respect in the tribe, goes to the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and eats of the golden fruit. For this he is banished from the tribe, but leaves with Oh convinced that he is a genius, and destined for greatness. They then go through various biblical characters in a haphazard manner, all of which could have been hysterical, few of which were. First they come upon Cain and Abel… No, excuse me. First they come along a pile of dung. So of course, Jack Black’s going to eat it.
ASIDE: I’m sorry, we’re going to have to dissect the poo joke here, because it’s a humor phenomena worth studying. It is a very delicate joke, one that if you choose to perform, you’d best do it well. It better be absolutely hysterical, because otherwise you’re the idiot that just attempted a joke involving fecal matter that nobody laughed at. Now let’s go through the many rules of the poo joke.
1. It has to have a purpose.
I think that’s all we really need to explain why Year One‘s attempt at this comedy gem failed so miserably. It is not funny for somebody to just find shit and put it in their mouth. But that’s pretty much what happens. So the purpose is: that he eats shit for no purpose! Do you see what they did there? They thought it would be funny to have somebody consume doodie when he had no reason to do so. That does not work with shit jokes. All you did was disgust me, you didn’t make me laugh. In American Wedding, we had Stiffler eating dog poo, because he had lost he wedding ring in a dog’s bowles and the relatives thought he was carrying a chocolate truffle. In desperation, he shoved it in his mouth. It was a gross out move (all poo jokes are), but it was also pretty damn funny. It had a set-up, it had a reason, and it made me laugh. Austin Powers had Mike Myers drink poo when he thought it was coffee. Once again, there was a point. He didn’t know he had poured the wrong cup, but the audience did. You watched tensely wondering if they were actually going to show it, and you guffawed when they did. Bonus points when he took a second sip and said, “it’s a bit nutty.” And of course, Dumb and Dumber has one of the most successful poo jokes in history.
If you’re wondering, the second rule of the poo joke is “It has to be funny,” a rule that was also broken here.
So now they come upon Cain and Abel, who don’t get along. There was a line in the preview that really made me look forward to this scene, “This is my brother Cain, and I am called Abel.” “You are called Suck.” David Cross’s and Paul Rudd’s banter looked promising. Then I got to the movie, and the ‘suck’ joke was extended until it wasn’t funny anymore. And nothing else about that scene was either. I suppose we were supposed to laugh as the fratricidal Cain brutally beat Abel with a rock. Then he said, “what have I done?” But Abel stirs. So he picks up the rock and beats Abel again. “What have I done, again?” he wails. But Abel stirs once more, so Cain rolls his eyes and starts again, moaning, “What do I continue to do?” in a faux distraught voice. LOL! So funny. David Cross, perhaps the most ardent hater of ‘obvious humor,’ should go bathe the hypocrisy off himself, along with any semblance of humor he has left.
By convincing, and threatening, Zed and Oh to stay quiet, Cain invites the two to eat dinner with his family, which includes father Adam, retarded son Seth—
ANOTHER ASIDE: Retarded jokes. Once again, they need a purpose. I’m not just going to laugh at the mentally handicapped because they’re mentally handicapped. I know, there are people who say it’s wrong to ever make the joke, but if the joke is going to be made, you’re going to have to do more than make him sound autistic. END ASIDE.
—and daughter Lilith. Adam (director Harold Ramis) has nothing funny to say, at all. Oh and Seth share a bed for the night, all the while Seth shows off his flatulence to Oh, laughing hysterically after each one.
YET ANOTHER SIDE: Fart jokes. When is the last time I actually laughed at a fart joke in a movie? They are so terribly cliched, so generic, so easy, and so bland I think I pretty much always think less of a movie that has one. Remember Adam Sandler’s Click? That movie might have been better, had it not had an extended sequence where Adam Sandler farts into David Hasselhoff’s mouth. Year One is no better. In fact, it’s worse, because this time David Hasselhoff is nowhere to be found.
I can actually think of of the last time, and it was Jack Black in Tropic Thunder. But that whole scene was a parody of the fart joke, and of The Nutty Professor, which might be the only other time I’ve laughed at cinema flatulence.
Zed sleeps the night with Lilith, hoping to ‘lay with’ her, only to find out she’s a lesbian. Once again, it’s a pointless idea that ultimately serves no purpose, save a line from Zed which is one of the funnier lines of the movie, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. All my brain blood was in my boner.”
Zed, Oh, and Cain leave Adam, after Abel’s body is discovered. There’s a ‘Mark of Cain’ joke I wouldn’t have gotten were I not familiar with the play Children of Eden, but since I was it was actually kind of funny. Or maybe I took pleasure in watching the irritating Cain get struck by lighting. They arrive in a town, where they find their entire tribe has been kidnapped and are being sold as slaves of the Sodomites. Now we get to the ‘plot,’ if you can call it that, as the set up for the movie is about the two heroes saving their women from servitude.
Eventually the two end up meeting Abraham (Hank Azaria) on a mountain top, poised and ready to stab his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who might as well change his name to ‘Mclovin’). I was hoping, praying, that Hank Azaria might save this film. He’s one of my favorite character actors, and is one of the funniest men in Hollywood. He has his moments, but his screen time is too brief and jokes too few to really salvage anything. There’s a decent gag about his obsession with circumcision, but he’s soon gone and forgotten.
They end up in Sodom (I couldn’t believe this movie only made on ‘sodomy’ joke) and find their women enslaved by the king. The princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde) is disgusted with her society, and how the people are treated, so she’s starving herself in protest. What a martyr. She sees in Jack Black an opportunity to start a revolution, since he was too enamored with her to bow as she passed on the street.
Oh is forced to follow around the high priest, played by Oliver Platt, who is another one of my favorite character actors. And he does a pretty good job here; he’s subtle enough with his wispy, homosexual voice, and ignorance of anything spiritual, to bring out some chuckles. I got a good chuckle out of him saying, “It looks like a smiley face, which makes me happy,” while reading pig entrails for the future. But once more, it’s not enough. It’s pretty funny to watch him force Oh to rub oil all over his fat, hairy chest, and his lines make it even better. But when all is said and done, this last fleeting hope for some real comedy dies like the dreams of idiots who want to be astronauts.
Michael Cera and Jack Black play the same characters they always do, but for some reason they just weren’t funny here. Black especially, who was more annoying and less likeable than usual. Cera is the master of deadpan, he’s great at getting chuckles but never gut-wrenching laughter. And there are times where his quiet lines were passably quotable. He’s the only thing that perhaps almost comes close to possibly thinking about considering to save this movie.
This film, I knew, would either be great or be terrible, there was no middle ground. I still like the premise, and think it could have been done with satire and wit that could have made this truly memorable. The material was all there, but they went with fart jokes and poop eating instead. I came dreadfully close to walking out, which I have never done before. I was ready for it to be over about halfway through, and as it drags on (and drags it does), the jokes get scarcer and scarcer, and I just couldn’t wait for those credits to roll. Then hopefully I could get therapy and, in time, be happy again.
Here’s the real kicker though. For most of the movie, it wasn’t that I wasn’t laughing at their jokes, it’s that there weren’t jokes to laugh at. Or if they were, they were so incredibly unfunny that they weren’t even recognizable attempts at humor. Either way, this film is a laughless, joyless, witless, waste of time and money I cannot beg you enough to stay away from. I pretty much mentioned all of the remotely funny parts here, just so you now have no reason to see it. So you’re welcome, there’s no need to thank me.
I didn’t see Land of the Lost, which was also critically panned, and I’m sure many thought would be the bomb of the summer. Somehow I can’t imagine it being worse than Year One. In fact, I bet the latter makes the former look like Casablanca. Expect Year One to take every ‘Razzie’ award next year.
That a man directly involved in Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and Caddyshack could come out with something so God-awfully terrible as this astounds me. I think we’d be breaking ten laws of the Geneva Convention if we showed this to our Gitmo prisoners.
Movies funnier than Year One:
-The Exorcist (Seriously. The line “There’s an alien pubic hair in my drink,” gave more laughs).
-Requiem for a Dream
-The Miracle of Life (yeah, that one you watched in your biology class)
-Hello Kitty Island Adventure
Just so we can kind of see where that lies, I mention my hatred for Twilight often, but I’d still put that movie at about a 5.2.