Review: ‘Year One’ almost a zero

Comedy isn’t evolutionary. Hollywood has been plundering ancient history for yuks at least since Buster Keaton’s day, and there’s little in "Year One" to suggest we’ve progressed much over the last 90 years.

Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a stretch to envisage Keaton picking up bear poop, as Jack Black does here, giving it an appraising sniff, then a quick lick. And I can’t imagine him peeing down his own nostrils, as Michael Cera does (he’s chained upside down at the time). Not to say this monkey business isn’t funny; these are the highlights of a relentlessly low-brow lark, notwithstanding several sophomoric speeches in a panicky existentialist vein. Black is Zed, a sorry excuse for a hunter in a tribe that has yet to discover the wheel. His buddy Oh (Cera) is even further down the totem pole, a mere gatherer. Neither is a hit with the ladies, and when Zed is exiled after stealing forbidden fruit, well, not even Oh wants to go with him — though of course he does tag along. It’s no fun being a sidekick all on your lonesome. Co-written and directed by comedy veteran Harold Ramis (“Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day”), “Year One” is little more than a series of juvenile skits dressed up in toga party glad rags. It rambles off into Old Testament territory when the boys stumble across Cain (David Cross) killing his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), then arrive in the desert in the nick of time to save Isaac’s neck (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) from his zealous father’s knife — though his foreskin is another story. Sorely lacking the anarchic edge that Monty Python brought to “The Life of Brian” and the sheer chutzpah of Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part One,” “Year One” is more akin to one of those old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby jaunts — two guys bicker and banter in exotic climes, hopping from scrape to scrape without ever reaching the bottom of the barrel.

Don’t Miss
‘Year One’ takes comedic pokes at the Bible

Inevitably, Zed and Oh find themselves on the Road to Sodom, where Oliver Platt’s plummy High Priest orchestrates orgies in the afternoon then presides over human sacrifices in the evening. It is in Sodom that the boys will prove their manhood. Black’s manic over-reacher and Cera’s shy mumbler complement each other well enough in theory, but at 39, Black is almost old enough to be the 21-year-old Cera’s father. It’s a big age gap for a comedy duo, and they never quite mesh or convince as bosom buddies, even if they’re fairly amusing separately. Among the supporting cast, only Hank Azaria’s fundamentalist Abraham really seizes on the possibilities; he and Platt deliver the goods. Too many others, on the other hand, just seem to have dropped by to hang out for a day or two on set. Typically, neither Juno Temple nor June Diane Raphael gets any breathing room as the heroes’ designated distressed damsels; Ramis ogles female flesh as enthusiastically as he milks homophobia for cheap laughs. Bearing the tell-tale scars of slash-and-burn post-market testing editing — several early scenes simply hit a brick wall — “Year One” isn’t an out-and-out disaster. It’s just another feeble comedy that never finds its rhythm or builds up a head of steam. Share your review of “Year One” It was probably a lot more fun to make than it is to watch, but we’ll have to take that on trust. Even the outtakes played alongside the end credits aren’t funny. “Year One” is rated PG-13 and runs 100 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly’s review, click here.