Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera
Release date: June 19, 2009
There are a lot of stock catchphrases that are widely used by people to describe movies that I have grown tired of hearing. Reading a review of a film that is described as a “rollercoaster thrill ride” or a performance is hailed as being a “tour de force” stinks of laziness and unoriginality by the critic. Specifically there are two descriptions that apply to Year One that I am deathly sick of hearing across the board: “Check your brain at the door” and “the actors looked like they had fun making the movie.”
A movie like Year One wasn’t made to be dissected into deeper meaning. Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera) are hunter-gatherers who are kicked out of their village for being worthless and forced into the world on their own. They have a variety of encounters that are loosely based on stories from the Bible. Dumb cavemen weaving in and out of biblical stories. That’s pretty much it. I’d like to be able to go into detail but the movie simply doesn’t provide that opportunity.
All told, Year One is Harold Ramis directing Jack Black and Michael Cera in a Judd Apatow-produced comedy. Based on the credits you would have expected that even if the whole thing didn’t work, it would have at least had its moments. It did not. Why? Because it was Harold Ramis directing Jack Black and Michael Cera in a Judd Apatow comedy. None of those names is strong enough to carry a film on its own anymore because they all rode the waves of their respective success into the ground. Black and Cera are playing the same character they have played in anything they have ever done, only set in prehistoric times. Guess what — it’s still not funny. The ink on Apatow’s rubber stamp has to be about dry by now. A name that at one time was synonymous with the possible second coming of Ramis himself in his prime, is quickly being reduced to current-day Ramis. Fitting, I suppose.
I guess at least I understand “check your brain at the door” sentiment. I’ve probably said it myself in a roundabout way. There are movies that are meant to be nothing more than they are at face value — and I’m OK with that to a point. Low-brow can still be smart if it’s done right. But not giving an audience the choice to decipher between the two by trying to force them into liking something under the assumed expectation that it is going to be stupid in the first place is insulting.
I am also sick of hearing that I should like a movie because the actors looked like they had fun making it. That concept can be used to add to a movie’s appeal as an undercurrent but there is the whole group of people (i.e., everyone else) that weren’t involved that would probably miss the joke. I have fun at work too and I joke around a lot with a lot of people, but there is a reason everyone with a job doesn’t have a movie made based on their water cooler and lunch time conversations. They may be funny for a minute, but the guy who comes in mid-conversation and the guy you tell the story to after work doesn’t get it; mainly because it was probably stupid to begin with. Which breeds yet another catchphrase that no one can stand: “Guess you had to be there.”
Since I’ve put more effort into this review than it appears everyone involved in the movie put into making it worthwhile, I’ll make it simple: This movie is boring, the jokes are stupid, and the people involved in it really should be ashamed at how far they lowered the bar. If you saw the trailer for Year One and were still disappointed, you should be too.
And there’s the rub.