June 21, 2009

Movie Review: Year One

yearone1_largeWho knew that Year One and 10,000 BC were the same year? As I sat there, laughing at the screen antics in the dark the realization struck me, the two movies are the same! Whether or not this was noticed during the production or not, I do not know. What I do know is that this must be what Roland Emmerich was aiming for when he made that ancient epic. It is a shame he landed so wide of the mark, watching 10,000 BC you can see the comedic elements fighting to peek their way through the thick melodrama and bad acting. On the other hand, Year One knows how to mine the material for all it is worth, inject some Biblical notes and fill the supporting cast with familiar faces and let them do their thing, do not even try to play the realism coin. All of this adds up up to a surprisingly enjoyable film, it is by no means a classic, but it will give you a reason to chuckle.

Despite being a comedy, Year One had drama swirling around it. When it was initially screened by the MPAA for ratings purposes, it was slapped with an R-rating, something came as something of a surprise to director Harold Ramis, who had his eyes set on an PG-13. Ramis and producer Judd Apatow (no stranger to the R-rating) appealed the ruling, promptly losing. Since their target was the PG-13, the team went reluctantly back to the editing room, making just enough trims to get down to their target. This is not something I am a big fan of. It almost sounds like they were shooting with the direct purpose of marketing an "unrated extended cut" when the DVD arrives. Meaning, they always intended it to fail the MPAA test. I do not know this for sure, but I would not be surprised.

Now, having seen the movie and basking in its rosy afterglow of its comedic effect on my psyche, I can see where they got the R-rating from. If there is such a thing, this is a "hard" PG-13, meaning if I had kids around this age, I am not sure I would want to expose them to the rather raunchy comedy. The movie is laced with sexual innuendo, explicit and implicit. I cannot say that I can see where the edits were, but they are there somewhere!

Year One is not the sort of movie that is going to be remembered for years to come, it is no classic, and it does not try to be. This is simply a vehicle for Jack Black and Michael Cera to ply their trade. The two essentially play the same sort of characters that have made up the bulk of their careers, they do not stretch beyond their range, remaining in their comfort zone. This works to great effect as they make a pretty good team (could we see more pairings from this duo? I wouldn't mind it). Of course, their ability to make you laugh will be directly tied to how much you like them in the first place. This will particularly apply to Black, as there seems to be a strong undercurrent of love/hate with regards to his comedy.

The movie follows the same tale as last year's 10,000 BC (while neither one is original). At the center of the story is Zed (Jack Black), low man on the totem pole who is neither a good hunter nor a good gatherer. He is best friends with Oh (Michael Cera), a timid gatherer who dreams of being with the Eema (Juno Temple), the one blond haired girl in the tribe, but she doesn't know he exists.

The duo's adventure gets off to a start when Zed breaks the tribe's one rule: Do not eat the fruit from the tree of tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Zed gets caught and is kicked out of the village. Feeling somewhat sorry for his friend, Oh joins him and together they head off into the wilderness, heading for the edge of the world.

Once they arrive at the edge, they see the rest of the world open up before them. This is where the story begins to take off. Our heroes learn that since their absence, the village was invaded and all of their friends, enemies, and want to be loved ones have been enslaved. Zed and Oh must now track them down and rescue them from their fate. Much like the story of Steven Strait's D'Leh in 10,000 BC.

Considering the sort of movie this is, and what we know of similar films part, I am sure you have a good idea of how this going to end. Seriously, there is only one way it can. Comedies cannot end on a downer, that would defeat the purpose of the comedy, so one way or another the heroes will come out on top. Before getting too far into the film, you will likely also be able to guess how the story will play out. In a comedy such as this, the plot and and its results are not the reason for it to be, it is the comedy that is a means to an end.

Does the comedy succeed? That depends on a couple of factors, your previously mentioned threshold for Jack Black comedy, and the actual jokes. Year One is chock-full of dirty jokes, many of them are actually funny. Considering I like Black and Cera, and dirty jokes are almost always funny, I have to admit to liking this movie, although I can also see how this will not be everyone's cup of tea and can be recognized by most sane people as not being a good movie. I don't care. It won me over.

Jack Black is Jack Black, wild-eyed and crazy, a caveman hopped up on the pre-historic equivalent of Red Bull, spouting quips on this journey through ancient history. Playing his straight man is Michael Cera whose dead pan delivery hides a quiet charisma, he has come a long way since Arrested Development. I enjoy watching him play the logical one as they try to save the day, and themselves.

In addition to Black and Cera, the cast is littered with familiar faces all adding little bits of comedy, from a nearly unrecognizable Bill Hader, to Paul Rudd and David Cross (as Abel and Cain), to Oliver Platt as a flamboyant High Priest, to the lovely Olivia Wilde of House as the Princess.. Also, we cannot forget Christopher Mintz-Plasse (developing quite a career, no?) as Isaac, the rebellious, near-sacrificial son of Hank Azaria's Abraham. The jokes are fast and furious, when one or two fail to land, another is not far behind.

This is not Harold Ramis' finest hour. In fact, it is a distinct step down from his last effort, the 2005 comic/thriller The Ice Harvest. Frankly, this probably would not have been any different had someone else been at the helm, and I like Ramis. He is also credited as co-writer alongside Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. This is the big screen debut for the latter two, who have also been announced as the writing team for Ghostbusters III. Again, this is not the best day for this trio, and this despite me liking the movie.

Bottomline. The cast and their ability to carry an overall weak movie won me over. I laughed and I laughed some more. The movie is utterly ridiculous. It is not the best comedy I have seen this year, far from it, but it is delightful, vulgar, and ultimately worth my time. Just be sure to leave the little ones at home.



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