movie film review | chris tookey

Year One

© Columbia Pictures - all rights reserved
  Year One Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
3.73 /10
Zed Jack Black , Oh Michael Cera
Full Cast >

Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Harold Ramis & Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg from a story by Ramis

Released: 2009
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 97

Puts comedy back 20,000 years.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A gurning Jack Black (pictured right) is an inept hunter and drippy Michael Cera (left) a feeble gatherer in this would-be comic homage to the Paleolithic age. That phase of human history ended around 10,000 BC, so perhaps it’s no accident that most of the jokes seem to have been excavated rather than written.

The historical setting is confused. Early on, it appears that we are in for a stone age comedy, as there are “gags” about the best way of wooing a girl. This involves hitting her over the head with a club and, presumably, having sexual relations with her while she’s unconscious, which is certainly more BC than PC.

But when Black and Cera are banished from their village – quite possibly for not being even slightly funny – they find themselves in a biblical pastiche set thousands of years later.

Here Cain (David Cross) bashes Abel (Paul Rudd) over the head with a rock for a laugh, and then – even though no one is chuckling, least of all the audience - hits him over and over again until he’s dead. So now you know: Cain invented badly timed slapstick, and it wasn’t funny even in biblical times.

One of the movie’s many depressing aspects is its very 21st century Hollywood assumption that violence, mutilation and death are hilarious, as are flatulence, urination and – of course – vomiting. Take out these and the kind of sexism that would make an Ayatollah cringe, and there’d be nothing left of the movie.

Except the sodomy. Black and Cera, after an overnight stay with a Hebrew lesbian and a Jewish teenager with an unpleasant combination of flatulence and diarrhoea, find themselves taken as sex-slaves to the city of Sodom. For some reason I couldn’t fully grasp, this is full of Americans trying to sound English.

It’s hard to know which of Sodom’s accursed inhabitants gives the most laughter-freezing performance.

A hot contender is the one genuine Brit, Vinnie Jones, as captain of the Sodomite guard. He’s supposed to be amusing because he shouts at everyone and hits them. Vinnie being Vinnie, he doesn’t even attempt to pretend this is slapstick – it’s just meaningless violence, which Vinnie always has thought is funny, on and off the football pitch, as long as he’s the one doing the hitting.

But then along comes Olivia Wilde, fresh or rather tarnished from the torture porn film Turistas, and grimly unappealing as a Sodomite princess who invites Black to enter the holy of holies, whereupon he invites her to sit on his polie of polies. This is the nearest the script gets to wit, by the way, so make the most of it.

Dreariest Sodomite of all, however, is Oliver Platt as an effeminately homosexual high priest, who wears lilac eyeshadow and the gold platform disco boots that Elton John rejected. Platt demands that Cera rub oil all over his chest and rampant pubic hair. Platt can be funny with a decent script, but he’s a hideous embarrassment with an indecent one.

This irredeemable smut has been granted a 12A certificate, presumably so that children can be taken to see it and taught about sex in the most ugly, sleazy and demeaning way possible.

The generosity of the certification is inexplicable, unless you realise that the film has been bankrolled by Columbia Pictures, a major studio and therefore an important source of income for the British Board of Film Classification.

Apart from gays, women are the butts of most of the jokes. The three male screenwriters don’t bother to give the two leading actresses a single line to make them attractive, intelligent or likeable. June Raphael and Juno Temple are saddled with these thankless roles, and for them the only way in show business is up.

The film Year One most resembles in style, or lack of it, is Mel Brooks’ chaotic History of the World Part One, but that was sophisticated by comparison. Here, the plotting is so perfunctory that scenes don’t climax; they just limp to a halt.

A particularly heinous example occurs early on, when Cera is being strangled by a gigantic snake, and the next moment he’s wandering about with no explanation for how he escaped. Just to show this isn’t a fluke, he does the same a few moments later, when he’s attacked by a cougar.

Script-writing this primitive doesn’t come along every week.

Cera, charming as the goofy kid in Juno, is clueless here, and - in a vain attempt to raise a laugh - resorts to urinating over himself. Black, so terrific in School of Rock, behaves like a coke-crazed parody of himself, and thinks it’s funny to eat excrement. I too was left with a nasty taste in my mouth.

The really depressing thing about this junk is that most of the people involved have proved they are capable of better work. Director and co-writer Harold Ramis, for instance, came up with the excellent Groundhog Day. Mind you, that was 17 years ago.

I can only hope that the three writers responsible - Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg - were drunk or stoned throughout the entire process. The question must remain as to whether everyone at Columbia was too, for a script this lousy should never have gone into production, and should have been abandoned as soon as anyone with any influence witnessed the rushes.

The final result is a disgrace to everyone involved. Please God, let there be no Year Two.

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