BLOGS

Year One: Can I Have That Year of My Life Back, Please?

When you go to the Fandango page for Jack Black and Michael Cera's Year One there's a small box where they list "Similar Movies You Might Like." Now, this box assumes that you like the movie whose page you're on. Considering that most people who go to Fandango haven't even seen the movie they're looking up yet, it's a strange feature. In this context, they're more like recommendations for movies you should stay home and watch instead of the movie you're about to buy tickets for. Dear God, how I wish I'd taken that little box's advice.

Instead of seeing Year One, the box told me to see Caveman, The History of the World Part I, National Lampoon's Stoned Age, Encino Man and Erik the Viking. Now, I can't speak for Stoned Age -- a movie I will likely never see, even if David Carradine is in it -- but the rest of the suggestions are not only apt, they're all much better than Year One, if only because Year One swipes elements from all of these films, including specific jokes. Mel Brooks should be particularly offended, since History of the World seems to have served as a major "inspiration" here.

The movie starts out as a more verbal Caveman, with out-of-shape hunter Zed (Black) and too-smart-for-the-tribe gatherer Oh (Cera) lusting after two hot ladies in the tribe, both of whom would probably go for them if they were a little more proactive, but given no other recourse have chosen to settle for strapping hunter-types. Things immediately take a thematic leap when Black visits the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, which grows glowing golden apples, for some reason, and is infested with pythons. Aside from the blatant mixing of mythological metaphors there, it's more or less pointless, since it doesn't make Zed any smarter (that would apparently require recasting).

However, it does get them thrown out of the village, so the movie can move on to the Erik the Viking portion of the evening, with the pair discovering the end of the world is not really the end, and meeting debatably more civilized cultures and being shocked by what they see. Which is where the History of the World comes in, since most of what they see are famous Bible scenes, including David Cross and Paul Rudd slumming as Cain and Abel. After one of them gets killed by a rock (SPOILER ALERT: It's the same one who gets killed in the book), the other sells our heroes into slavery, and the pair become lowly servants/soldiers/entertainers in the city of Sodom, which may as well be Mel Brooks' Rome. Sodom isn't as bad as you've heard, although women do suggestively lick bananas in the street, and it's ruled by a solemn king (Xander Berkeley, taking a paycheck), a flamboyant priest (Oliver Platt, lisping), an evil centurion (Vinnie Jones, scowling) and a hot princess (Olivia Wilde, Maxim cover girl).

Throughout, Black is simply Black, being generally full of himself and talking about how important and awesome he is, although it's tinged with a quasi-religious fervor. Cera is Cera, deriding everything and everyone around him under his breath, including his partner in time, and hoping nobody hears him. (His half-whispered pleas for Cain not to kill him are admittedly pretty funny.) Throughout, I heard at least a dozen caveman jokes that I'd heard before, and I don't just mean the jokes in the trailer, although that is certainly most of them. I guess that's the problem with caveman humor -- it's the oldest kind of humor there is. There's a scene where Zed and Oh come across Abraham (Hank Azaria) about to sacrifice his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and after a briefly Monty Python-esque "Hey, what are you doing to that kid?" moment, it descends into the same old Jewish jokes, including an extended one about circumcision that could have been taken page for page from Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Talk about scraping the bottom of the Mel Brooks barrel.

The sad part is, there are so many funny actors in this thing, but they're not given much to do. Aside from the aforementioned Azaria, Cross and Rudd, there's also Tenacious D's Kyle Gass as a eunuch, UCB's Matt Besser as an annoyed sacrifice observer, skinny Horatio Sanz as a caveman, Human Giant's Paul Scheer as a volunteer slave, Factory's David Pasquesi as a diplomatic advisor, and director/Ghostbuster Harold Ramis as Adam. And with the exception of a couple of good lines by Besser and Azaria (and Pasquesi's hysterically subservient hand gestures), none of them really do much that's remotely funny. Even current go-to funnyman Bill Hader of SNL has an almost invisible role as a face-painted shaman who tells Zed he's banished. I couldn't figure out who he was until the very end of his two-minute scene, when he gave me one of only three real laughs I had through the entire movie.

So, unless three laughs sounds like the perfect amount for you, I would recommend simply renting History of the World Part 1, or even Erik the Viking. You'll get a lot more enjoyment out of it, and you'll be putting your money in the pockets of Mel Brooks and Monty Python, where all of Year One's earnings rightfully belong anyway.

Year One opens tomorrow in theaters everywhere, and is rated PG-13, for testicle-throwing, penis-chopping and the use of the phrase "poliest of poleys."

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