You can’t lose the plot you never had

Knuckle-drag­ging hu­mour fails to get off the ground

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODMOVIES -

EVER WON­DER what would hap­pen if you locked some screen­writ­ers in a room with a his­tory of man, the Old Tes­ta­ment, some re­ally po­tent pot and a tape recorder? Ever won­der what would hap­pen if that were made into a movie?

Year One, the new buddy com­edy star­ring Jack Black and Michael Cera, seems to be try­ing to an­swer th­ese burn­ing ques­tions in this turn­back-the-clock, take-a-look-at-ourances­tors fa­ble with fart jokes.

In the beginning there were nerds, or so it would seem as we first check in at the mud-and-dung vil­lage where Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) live with their loin-clothed brethren.

Zed’s a ter­ri­ble hunter, Oh isn’t much of a gath­erer, and nei­ther is hav­ing any luck with girls.

As his­tory has shown us time and again, that sort of dis­con­tent only leads to trou­ble, and with that tree of for­bid­den fruit in the gar­den, the temp­ta­tion to taste is just too much for Zed to bear. One bite, one burnt vil­lage and one ban­ish­ment later, the boys are off to ex­plore the world.

Zed and Oh get lost a lot once they dis­cover that the Earth isn’t flat. You have to won­der if that’s what hap­pened to di­rec­tor Harold Ramis too, the mind be­hind such mem­o­rable come­dies as Ghost­busters and the es­pe­cially won­der­ful Ground­hog Day.

Ev­ery time Ramis, who wrote the film with Gene Stup­nit­sky and Lee Eisen­berg (and let me just say that I ac­tu­ally have no idea if drugs were re­ally used in the writ­ing of this film), gets backed into a cor­ner, he just cuts and runs, or has Zed and Oh do it for him. So when a cougar is about to at­tack a com­pletely help­less Oh, the screen goes dark and sud­denly it’s morn­ing and Oh has a few scratches.

Mo­ments like this are con­fus­ing only be­cause there are so very many scenes in Year One that are such ab­so­lute fool­ish­ness that you won­der why the film-mak­ers wor­ried about how the cougar fight could be ex­plained.

The film is built to play to the costars’ strengths: Zed has a hero com­plex, while Oh’s is­sues are with in­fe­ri­or­ity.

As a re­sult, we get a lot of Black do­ing his lip-curl­ing, sin­is­ter-smil­ing, chest-beat­ing pro­nounce­ments of man­hood thing.

Mean­while, Cera plays coun­ter­point with his self-dep­re­cat­ing, I’mnot-sure-I-should-even-be-say­ing-this shtick, which turns out to be charm­ing even when the movie is not.

As they stum­ble through this crazy world, Zed and Oh bump into Cain and Abel, where the guys get mixed up in that nasty sib­ling spat; they wade right into the cir­cum­ci­sion de­bate with Abra­ham, af­ter avert­ing the sac­ri­fice of his only son Isaac; they get picked up by Ro­man slavers; they even­tu­ally land in Sodom be­cause it of­fers the pos­si­bil­ity of so many more sex jokes than Go­mor­rah (that last part is just a guess).

The film is lit­tered with ap­pear­ances from many comic yeomen in­clud­ing Oliver Platt as Sodom’s fey high priest, Hank Azaria as Abra­ham, Bill Hader as the vil­lage shaman in black­face, David Cross as Cain and an un­cred­ited Paul Rudd as Abel, among oth­ers.

Cera and Black are great as side­kicks, but in Year One they don’t make it as lead­ing men, and that’s a prob­lem.

There is no real plot ei­ther; in­stead the nar­ra­tive seems de­signed to get this pre­his­toric pair from one funny sketch to the next, which some­times works and some­times doesn’t.

There is plenty of low­brow, knuckle-drag­ging hu­mour, cou­pled with all the gay jokes, poop jokes, Jewish jokes and you’re-stu­pider-than-Iam jokes; the ar­rested-de­vel­op­ment crowd will no doubt be thor­oughly en­ter­tained.

Ramis has said he was in­spired by Mel Brooks in The 2000 Year Old Man and a Cro-Magnon Man/Ne­an­derthal Man im­prov he did years ago with Bill Mur­ray and John Belushi, which sort of ex­plains the an­tecedents for Year One.

Though I still favour the room, recorder and pot the­ory as the gen­e­sis mo­ment for this par­tic­u­lar bit of non­sense. – LA Times

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