Two cavemen can’t catch a break in Year One
Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), the one a hunter and the other a gatherer, are a pair of stone-age zeroes. And in Harold Ramis’ flimsily farcical extravaganza, these two goofy failures among buffoon cavemen have been cast out of the tribe and into a semi-epic travesty on ancient history, or at least whatever history might be gleaned from comically garbled versions of the Old Testament and assorted biblical spectaculars from Old Hollywood.
There’s something very intriguing in the basic concept, especially with that combination of high-brow wit and low-brow foolishness cavorting through territory that might be equal parts Mark Twain and Mel Brooks. But the comic entertainment in Year One is erratic at best, and however much comic inspiration and thought may have gone into the basic premises, the on-screen results feel tossed-off and half-hearted, as often as not.
Cera and Black make an amusing comic team, and the not-so-excellent misadventures of Zed and Oh—with the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorra, miscellaneous Roman centurions, etc.—make for a divertingly diverse set of antics, even as they fail to build into anything terrifically funny or significant.
Oliver Platt’s role as a grotesquely campy Sodomite priest provides the most conspicuous of the several occasions in which the film lunges beyond its rowdy rambunctiousness into something verging on the merely obnoxious. Hank Azaria, Vinnie Jones, David Cross and Christopher Mintz-Plasse all have distinctive supporting roles but each proves mostly inconsequential. The best moment for Paul Rudd (uncredited as Abel) is relegated to the outtakes that play out during the closing credits.
Juno Temple, Jane Diane Raphael and Olivia Wilde are dutifully engaging as the requisite damsels in the more conventionally romantic aspects of adventure farce. And their complaisant presence underlines the extent to which Year One is transparently, and merely, a summer-movie vehicle for its two stars.