Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Olivia Wilde, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis
While I doubt Year One will ever be accused of being a "smart" comedy, it certainly made me laugh a helluva lot when I sat down to watch it over the Christmas holidays. While Monty Python's Life of Brian may be the more revered biblically-based comedy, the tandem of Jack Black and Michael Cera had brilliant chemistry on screen as a comedic duo. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never made me laugh like this during their "Road" movies.
The premise is simple enough and just to talk about it shows the potential for some great laughs. Take a couple of guys with present day attitudes and place them in ancient times. Then, for the movie, cast a slew of comedic actors with a penchant for improvisation and see what happens.
The plot of the movie is a bit sparse, almost tenuous, but the separate scenes play off so well as individual sketches that you could easily forgive the stitching used to connect one scene to the next. Black and Cera are a hunter and a gatherer, respectively--Cera's character, named Ooh (sp), may argue the point he's also a maker, since he invented drinking from a gourd within his tribe. They're the proverbial runts of the litter, as they can't find mates, can't exert any dominance among the other men, and have little to no respect among the rest of the tribe. Looking for something more, Black's character heads into the forest and eats from the Tree of Knowledge despite the protests of Cera's character.
They're soon kicked out of the tribe, marked as cursed for eating the forbidden fruit, and quickly discover there is an entire world beyond the borders of their territory. On their journey, they basically walk through a crude timeline of parables of the Old Testament. Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, and the city of Sodom all appear in the film and even intermingle, like a cross pollination of biblical folklore. All the while, Black and Cera end up trying to discover their own identities and also redeem themselves to the tribeswomen they love.
What makes the movie so much fun to watch is the outrageousness and absurdity of certain scenes. Oliver Platt's performance as a high priest in Sodom is something to be seen to be believed. Hank Azaria as Abraham, first seen about to murder his son--McLovin is even in the movie--as a sacrifice to "the Lord, thy GOD!", looks so genuine in the garb he could pass for a cast member in a Heston movie ... if not for the hilarious rationalization he gives for the invention of circumcision.
The Hangover probably wins the moniker of "Best Comedy of 2009", but I think there's room to give Year One honorable mention for the over-the-top style presented by Harold Ramis' movie. This is the kind of Jack Black movie I like, when he's hamming it up for the cameras and has a supporting cast more than capable of keeping pace with him ... even outdoing him at times.