There's something entirely pointless about reviewing movies after opening night in the Summer of 2009.
Even as showbusiness falls apart, the summer schedule is glutted with a little bit of everything from Sandra Bullock vehicles to trainwreck movies inspired mostly a lust for nostalgia (I'm looking at youGI Joe). To last more than that first weekend it takes something special, or something with enough marketing inertia to carry it past poor word of mouth.
In that environment it doesn't look good forYear One. The Jack Black and Michael Cera caveman buddy comedy manages to deliver exactly what it promises, the two actors stuck in their usual places inside of world of dick jokes and hastily assembled biblical references (not that there's anything wrong with that).
There are enough laughs for your money, but they often come between long pauses created by half-hearted attempts at jokes or gags that don't quite seem to work and go nowhere. For example when Zed (played by Black) goes to eat the Forbidden Fruit his friend Oh (Cera) is attacked by a python, the gag lingers but we never get a punch line and instead fade to black and the next scene.
The sketches that do work, work quite well as when Cain (David Cross) kills his brother Abel (Paul Rudd) and brings the two bumbling cavemen into his poor cover up. The thrilling chase scene that eventually ensues when the crime is discovered is a nice end to a scene that starts to meander after too long. Some of the best jokes come from this vein of biblical parody that runs through the movie, managing to tweak the absurdity of everything from ritual human sacrifice to circumcision (thanks to the help of the ever excellent Hank Azaria).
Black and Cera work well together, a little like two pieces of a puzzle. Cera’s typical soft and almost lifeless delivery is a welcome counter to Black’s aggressive and manic style.
The end could also use some reworking, it’s the kind of arbitrary moral lesson that always seems to be tacked on to things. I squirmed in my seat a little as it started, I was hoping that things would end a little more like the original story. In retrospect, by not going out with a bang Year One gets in one last tweak about the emptiness of arbitrary taboos.
Other criticism has been profoundly negative, and I’m sure that will work to keep this movie from coming back to theaters next week (even on its opening night there were only a few showings). Which is tragic, because Year One is an earnest and fun movie that – in a less saturated summer – might have had a fighting chance even against better executed comedies (like The Hangover).