“Did you ever think it’s because God doesn’t exist?” bemoans Oh, the socially deficient sourpuss in Harold Ramis’ new film “Year One.” The denial of God’s existence is a brave thing to do in a wide release studio picture meant to placate a wide swath of American audiences, but only if it sticks to its convictions. Unfortunately this dull comedy has none of those convictions, and is steeped in cowardice in both message and humor. From the brilliant mind that gave us “Caddyshack,” and “Groundhog Day,” this film is a disappointment of Biblical proportions.
The first half of “Year One” is a loose string of vignettes using various bits of the Bible as a template. After some huntering and gathering mishaps rotund blowhard Zed (Jack Black) and his whiny buddy Oh (Michael Cera) are exiled from their caveman village, and somehow stumble into the Book of Genesis. From Cain and Able to Sodom and Gomorrah this film does for Biblical what “Forrest Gump” did from American history. Toward the midpoint the film comes together into a fairly straight forward actiony, not really funny sword and sandal adventure tale as the two miscreants attempt to free their loved ones from some Roman/Mesopotamian/Egyptian amalgam ruling class.
With too many outrageous comedic personalities on screen Ramis shows no effort of reining them in, and the film often degenerates into an anthology of modern, white comedic actors laying their shticks out on display. Jack Black and Michael Cera spend much of the film trying to out awkward each other, the former with his uber-awesome awesomeness, and the latter with the hang-dog teen angst that have become their respective trademarks. David Cross is on hand as Cain, but really it is just David Cross in a robe. Christopher Mintz-Plasse squeaks along as Isaac, and as always Hank Azaria does some funny voices as Abraham.
Throwing God to the wind is a funny concept, and religion in general, the Bible in particular, just screams to be made fun of, but in this day and age it takes some guts where this film has none. Lightly playing circumcision and Hebrews for laughs is about as close as this film is willing to go toward Biblical humor. Where truly hilarious films like “Life of Brian” or “History of the World Part 1” took religion head on “Year One” stays on the safe side by mining bodily functions and sexuality for its humor. It keeps the sticky subjects of religion and modern political strife off the table, and is much worse for wear because of it.
The only questionably subversive bit is the overall lack of ethnicity in the film. If it was a conscious decision to put up an entire fair skinned cast (Jews and Horatio Sands don’t count) then kudos for a not so laugh-out-loud, but entirely cerebral dig at modern religious notions. Then again it could just be racist.
Though through its lack of courage “Year One” does bring to light this country’s inability to discuss religion in mass media. Oh fleetingly brings up the subject of there being no God, but then quickly hedges his bets by tossing out a quick prayer just in case. Toward the end Zed spouts that there is no chosen one i.e. no Messiah, and is rewarded for his recantation with a heavenly rain. The decision to make most of the humor about excrement and homophobia proves that the film is too scared to risk alienating a core ticket buying audience. This film strives to play both sides of the fence, but never takes a stance. Why set a comedy in the Bible if you aren’t going to make fun of that book, or its modern effects? Because it would like to create the illusion of discussing religion or God without really doing so, thus the illusion of being controversial without any of the real consequences. Mass Media can’t discuss religion because the resulting alienation would decrease its market share, and that would be Wrath of God-type bad.
El Luchador Rating: (2 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)