Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K
If you want to see Jack Black eat poop or Michael Cera pee on his own face, then Year One is the movie for you. That's probably the best thing I can say for it. It comes out of a cute idea. What if people with today's sensibilities, people who speak with deadpan irony, namely characters Judd Apatow probably cooked up, what if they lived in the Old Testament? What would that look like? It could have been funny, and at points it is. David Cross and Paul Rudd play Cain and Able. Hank Azaria plays Abraham. But that's about as far as it goes. Couldn't this idea be milked a bit further? There's a whole Bible full of stories and jokes, but instead the movie relies on Michael Cera's charm (any who can resist that, frankly), poop, and gay jokes. But I'll get to that last one in a second.
Jack Black's shtick is wearing thin, honestly. He's better than this stuff, and we saw it in King Kong, Margot at the Wedding, Tropic Thunder, and even School of Rock. How many more times can he keep playing the idiot, fat guy? This time he's the idiot, fat guy in a loin cloth. There's not even really a story to back him up either. Just a few bits that don't even come together in the end. That's probably the most depressing part of all. This movie was directed and co-written by Harold Ramis. Harold Ramis. The guy wrote some of the best comedies of all times: Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Stripes, Animal House, Groundhog Day, and now he's making this. (His last two movies were Bedazzled and Analyze That, so maybe I shouldn't be all that surprised, but still.) He should be better than this walking sight gag, which by the way, isn't all that original to begin with. Didn't the guys in Monty Python already pull this off with Life of Brian?
But for whatever reason, Black does have good chemistry with Cera, which is what makes the movie not a total loss. The plot, if you can call it that, revolves around the pair heading to Sodom to save the women from their village from slavery–not all of the women, mind you, just the two that they have crushes on. Along the way, it's as if the movie keeps forgetting that this is the point, because the two women have to keep reminding them. (Cera's intended oddly, looks a lot like Ellen Page, and the actresses' name is Juno Temple. Weird, right?)
And, so speaking of Sodom, back to what I started to say earlier. Why do Judd Apatow and his marry band of followers think gay people are so funny? Or a better question, is what is their problem with gay people? Usually the jokes are more in passing, but they're always there without fail. In Year One, it started out okay, just as a stupid, gross buddy movie. But then in the second half, we have Oliver Platt as a flamboyant, eye makeup wearing, high priest who forces Cera to rub oil all over his body. We have a feminine eunuch who keeps his testicles in a pouch and paints Cera to look like a statue. And those are just the visual jokes. It takes place mostly in Sodom, so you can use your imagination about the rest. All of these people in Apatow's clan–Black and Cera, and Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, Jonah Hill–are Hollywood types, and probably have no problem with gay people, but what kinds of insecurities must we be talking about, that in order to produces these "guy movies," they always have to assert their heterosexual masculinity, as if that wouldn't just go without saying? It's been noticeable before, but I was just suddenly struck with it here. Apatow is hailed as this smart guy, and also, I'm giving him credit for more than he's actually done here, but let's face it, he's the king of this kingdom. If he's as smart as we've been led to believe, why does he keep lifting the schlubby straight guy up, while pushing down everyone else? (There were just barely women in Year One, but see also: Knocked Up for his views on women.) Just something to think about, you know, when you’re not distracted by the poop jokes.
Year One: 5/10